5G will help autonomous cars cruise streets safely

Intel and Qualcomm will be showing off 5G technologies for autonomous cars at Mobile World Congress

Years from now, your first autonomous car may have a lot of help from 5G wireless networks to navigate the streets safely.

5G will be as important to autonomous cars as 4G has been to mobile phones. The technology will help cars change lanes, recognize signals and draw up accurate maps. 5G will also help vehicles communicate in order to scope out road and weather conditions.

For collision avoidance, 5G will connect cars to cloud services for object recognition. It will also provide a constant link to live TV for backseat passengers to enjoy. Many 5G capabilities for autonomous cars will be on display at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, where Intel and Qualcomm will be showing off their latest technologies.

Qualcomm is testing its gigabit LTE modem and 5G technology with partner LG in autonomous vehicles. LG is making a vehicular connectivity product based on Qualcomm's chip technologies, which will include the superfast Snapdragon X16 LTE and 802.11ac chips.

Qualcomm rules the market for telematics systems, but wants to extend its reach into various aspects of car tech. LG's vehicular connectivity products will include support for Qualcomm's C-V2X, a set of technologies for cars to communicate with other vehicles, cellular networks, roadway infrastructure and even pedestrians.

Intel at MWC will show an autonomous car with 5G capabilities. The company is working with BMW and Mobileye, a maker of collision-avoidance systems, to put an autonomous car on the road by 2021.

5G, a successor to 4G, is a melting pot of different wireless technologies that could cover high-speed data transfers up to 45Gbps (bytes per second) all the way to low-bandwidth communications among internet of things devices. Deployments of 5G networks are expected to start around 2020.

Via 5G networks, autonomous cars could connect to smart city infrastructure -- like street signals -- or to the grid for more efficient energy management, said Aicha Evans, senior vice president and general manager of the Communication and Devices Group at Intel.

Additionally, the superfast 5G could maintain a continuous link with cloud services for machine learning tasks like image and speech recognition. This way, cars won't need heavy-duty chips like GPUs for machine learning.

5G will also help draw up more accurate maps by collating information from multiple online and satellite sources and merging it with data collected from on-car LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and radar sensors, Evans said.

Cars will be able to avoid colliding with pedestrians by detecting smartphones approaching the intersection, Qualcomm said. The situational awareness will happen by direct communication between the car and a pedestrian's handheld device, which will occur in the 5.9GHz ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) band. That's a part of C-V2X, which is based on current LTE and other wireless technologies, but will evolve to include 5G.

MWC will be an early showcase of 5G in autonomous cars, but expect the technology to become a standard feature as it is shaped into a standard. Right now 5G networks are still being tested, and modems are still in their early days.

Top car and technology companies are chasing opportunities in autonomous driving. Companies like Google, Uber and Nvidia have tested autonomous cars on the streets.

The path to 5G is via the LTE wireless communication standard. Autonomous cars could also take on some advanced features with fast LTE modems. Qualcomm announced a LTE 1.2Gbps modem and Intel announced 1Gbps LTE modem this week.

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