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Transportation leveraging on 5G

Self driving cars will be connected through a variety of communications systems now under development that ultimately will become part of 5G. Credit: Qualcomm

Most road transportation today is using wireless communications, both for its operation as well as offering connectivity, entertainment and information services to “passengers”. As important if not even more the use of wireless in tracking goods enabling continuous monitoring and effectiveness in the logistics value chains.

In the coming years, and we are seeing the first signs already, self-driving vehicles will take a share in transporting people and goods and their number will become overwhelming in thirty years from now. Much sooner, however, their number will become significant. These vehicles will be using what best will be offered in terms of wireless communications systems.

Manufacturers are already experimenting a variety of solutions (under the label V2X – Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure communications) that eventually will merge under the 5G label. The most significant advantage offered by 5G, besides its lower latency that can be further minimised in V2V and V2I communications when the classic infrastructure is not used, is, again, the possibility to use a multiplicity of communications channels and access points within a single session. This increases the flexibility in the management of the connection and in the offering of services.

The new architectures that are being studied at network level have significant interest in this application domain: “network slicing” and “network resources virtualisation”, NFV and SDN, increases the  flexibility of the network optimising its exploitation, basically making customisation, tailoring, possible to a fine degree. Notice, however, that on the one hand the companies that are working in this sector are working to use current technologies, WiFi (as an example to manage platooning of trucks) and LTE (4G) and even looking at the coming years, once 5G will start its deployment, the solutions adopted need to take into account that 5G will not be ubiquitous for many years to come and anyhow there is a need for “plan B” in case the infrastructure, for any reason, becomes unavailable.

For this reason it is recognised that 5G offers interesting characteristics nicely fitting the requirement of the transportation domain (including logistics and its IoT) but on the other handit cannot be seen as a stepping stone onto which the future transportation infrastructure can rely. The companies, and users, operating in this area need systems that can operate with high reliability independently of the availability of resources that are not under their direct control.

In this sense we are seeing a full cooperation between transportation players and telecommunications providers (including municipalities that are playing a major role in urban infrastructures) but at the same time and independence in terms of development plans.

Some architectural solutions being studied today for 5G will likely find application in vehicles and in the transportation infrastructure and vice versa solutions being designed and experimented by transportation manufacturers (mesh networks connecting vehicles and road infrastructures operating independently of Operators infrastructures) may eventually become part of the 5G architecture and standards.

In the transportation area technology development is driven by artificial intelligence to ensure a self-awareness of each single vehicle, independently from “helps” (always welcome) that may come from other vehicles and from the context/road infrastructure. This is unavoidable considering that for many years we will have plenty of non-autonomous vehicles, operated by a human driver and even looking at a future “future” where one could imagine that all vehicles will be self-driving they will still have to take into account cyclists, pedestrians and a variety of animals wandering around…

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.