August 26, 2019

Teleoperation: Why We Don’t Wait For 5G

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Entering a New Age for Connected Cars

Mobility without connectivity might be almost unthinkable; or at the very least, it would seem from an entirely different era.

Without an internet connection among passengers, drivers or vehicles, there would be no ride-hailing, no updated routes and ETAs, limited fleet management and no over-the-air (OTA) updates. Increased connectivity has and will continue to enable major leaps in how people move.

Autonomous mobility is no exception. The upload and download of terabytes of development and testing data, the use of high-definition maps and the wireless updates for autonomy software all highlight how connectivity for autonomous vehicles, compared to their less smart predecessors, will be more relevant than ever.

Another crucial aspect of connectivity for autonomous vehicles — very close to our hearts here at Ottopia — is teleoperation. We view it as a huge piece of the “fully driverless” puzzle. As autonomous fleets scale, commercialization begins and time-sensitive deliveries and travel are offered on these platforms, we believe teleoperation will be absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the most basic requirement for teleoperation is a wireless connection between the vehicle and a remote operator. Therefore, it is at the heart of our work (and our product) to understand the pros and cons of different network technologies. More importantly, it is at the heart of our mission to enable safe and secure teleoperation, leveraging the strengths and acknowledging the limitations of each technology.

The Good, The Bad, and The Coverage

One conversation we often have with various customers and partners is whether 5G networks are a system requirement for our teleoperation platform, or more generally, for connected autonomous vehicles.

While it is tempting to believe certain 5G standards and network architectures can unlock an autonomy paradise, there is a resounding message we hear from customers, developing autonomous tech: we need autonomous, connected vehicles that can operate safely with 4G technology.

We agree.

To design a vehicle that can only offer mobility when enabled by 5G is to bet the company’s growth not only in solving one of the most challenging artificial intelligence problems of our time, but also on having the right infrastructure scale on time. In optimistic scenarios, 5G coverage could improve substantially in key cities in the coming years. In more realistic scenarios, that infrastructure build-out will take time. It is more uncertainty.

This does not mean that there should be a compromise on safety. And there isn’t, if you follow the right approach. 4G LTE satisfies system requirements for a safely teleoperated vehicle, when the right platform design and the right measures are put in place.

Network latency, reliability, and other important challenges that arise from using public LTE networks are front and center in the work we do at Ottopia. That is why we develop our own ultra-low latency video transport, our own cellular bonding solutions, and various additional safety layers, like ATAS™ and indirect methods of control. Our customers consider these key components for safe teleoperation.

In the end, 4G LTE’s dominance and geographic coverage make it the necessary technology for operating connected and autonomous vehicles for — probably — the coming decade. To develop safe and secure solutions that are compatible with LTE’s strengths and limitations is to help unlock the full potential of autonomous mobility — Ottopia’s very mission.

In the short term, 4G LTE is the name of the game.

5G Is All Upside

Having made the case for teleoperation using 4G networks, we are optimistic about the rise of 5G.

There are different architectures and standards that fall under the 5G moniker, which address some of the major pain points for 4G LTE. Vehicle connectivity with some of these standards can become far more reliable, substantially reduce communications latency, and enable much higher speed at a lower running cost. This will all be a boon for teleoperation. 5G will allow remote driving to be more efficient, at a lower cost, and unlock new use cases.

Despite some uncertainty around its affordability and coverage in the near future, it is hard to imagine that automotive connectivity won’t transition to 5G.

Ottopia is, of course, preparing for the future of connected mobility. This includes revving our engines for the 5G revolution.

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