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Digital Platform + Intelligence: The Highway for Connecting Cars to the Future

In the past decade, the automotive industry has made huge strides in connected cars and the Internet of Vehicles (IoV). Developments like live traffic information, media ignition, remote ignition, vehicle tracking, and navigation services have all become commonplace. But the biggest changes — and challenges — for connected vehicles lie ahead.

By 2023, worldwide sales of connected cars will reach 72.5 million units, up from 24 million units in 2015, according to IHS Markit, an industry consultancy. This means that in just over eight years, more than two-thirds of passenger vehicles will be exchanging data with external devices.

The connected vehicle cannot operate without communication technologies. Based on network connections, information can flow within the vehicle, between vehicles, between the vehicle and the road it is traveling on, and between the vehicle and the cloud — handling scenarios such as changes in traffic lights and driving conditions.

“In the future, connected vehicles will be able to interact with the automobiles and infrastructure around them,” said Raj Rajkumar, George Westinghouse Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “The most exciting development will be when vehicles can communicate with traffic lights and other surrounding vehicles.”

Digital Highways

Some of this is already happening. Using ad-hoc mesh Wi-Fi or technologies like Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X), vehicles can keep informed of the changes in traffic lights and communicate their intentions with other vehicles, to better avoid collisions. For example, technologies for connected vehicles have been applied to government vehicles and roads in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to equip 2,500 of its government vehicles with C-V2X and Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) technologies by the end of the year and expects 4 million vehicles to be ‘talking’ to each other and the roadway infrastructure within 10 years.

In China, the wide coverage and technical advances of cellular networks provide the base for C-V2X to become widely adopted by the government as a key enabler of connected vehicles. Nine provinces have embarked upon the digitization of their highways, with the purpose of using C-V2X to connect 90 percent of the nation’s highways by 2020.

Huawei is working with Chinese and European cities — including Barcelona in Spain, Hanover in Germany, and London in England — to deploy C-V2X traffic solutions globally and facilitate autonomous driving.

But this is just the beginning. Further connecting cars, pedestrians, and roadway infrastructure will bring safer roads, more efficient engines, and richer experiences for both drivers and passengers. Digital platform technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a greater role as these interactions become smarter. Carmakers will be able to monitor their vehicles in a real-world environment, tweaking the driving experience and coupling it with machine learning.

Driving Interaction

AI will improve the interaction between humans and vehicles by understanding and anticipating the driver’s needs and movements. After the construction of 5G networks, complex and data-heavy scenarios involving multiple vehicles, roads, and other elements can be assessed with AI. “This new branch of the Internet of Things (IoT) will spawn business opportunities we haven’t dreamed of. Connected vehicles may quickly become the IoT’s biggest revenue generator,” Rajkumar said.

The hardware and services for connected vehicles are expected to reach values of up to USD 156 billion by 2020, according to a report from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2017. The number of active fleet management systems — a measure of the demand for connected commercial vehicles — is also growing. More than 10.6 million management systems, covering light and heavy commercial vehicles, are expected in Europe by 2020, up from just 2 million in 2010.

This means there will be massive volumes of data passing to and from connected cars. Data will interact between vehicles, vehicles and pedestrians, and vehicles and roadway infrastructure. Other data will be transmitted over cellular networks.

Mass data from connected vehicles will impose huge demands on the network. According to DERKA, a company focusing on the safety of human interaction with technology, a connected car will generate 25 GB of data per hour. Intel, the chip vendor, says that autonomous driving will generate about 4 TB of data per day, which is equivalent to the data traffic consumed by almost 3,000 people.

“The network is the essential foundation for the communication among vehicles, infrastructure, and humans,” says Alastair MacLeod, CEO of Teralytics, which uses mobile phone data to optimize transportation. “In the future, the network needs to support billions of newly connected devices, cars, and infrastructure, with fast and reliable connectivity.”

While some of this can be handled by existing LTE networks, much of the promise of connected cars will only be realized when 5G networks are rolled out. This could be soon. The 5G standards were completed in mid-2018 and some networks and devices will be rolled out by the end of the year. 5G networks will reduce latency and improve reliability — key to enabling vehicles to communicate with a range of entities around them.

“5G networks enable cars to transfer great amounts of data in real-time,” well-known IT industry consultant and Global Automotive Center of Competence member Juri Deuter said. “Also, it allows direct peer-to-peer communication. Countries that take the lead in adopting 5G standards will have a great advantage in the whole mobile market.”

The Final Destination

The ‘holy grail’ is for cars themselves to become Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). The industry divides the advancement of autonomous driving into five levels. On the first two levels, AI assists cars, but humans are the ultimate authority. Antilock brakes and adaptive cruise control have achieved partial automation, but still require humans to intervene. The industry reached these first two levels comfortably and is now nearing level 3, according to Tom Koulopoulous, a futurist and founder of the Delphi Group.

“We are approaching what is one of the most critical inflection points,” he says.

Level 3 is where the vehicle can be controlled by either the autonomous driving system or humans with a seamless shift. “The challenge with Level 3 is that we hold the AV to a much higher standard than we do human drivers,” says Koulopoulous. “For that we need better AVs, which means we need better AI. And in the case of AVs, AI is still somewhat embryonic.”

The prerequisite for implementing a level-3 AV is to promote AI applications in digital platform technologies, with a focus on machine learning and its subset, deep learning, according to Huawei. Advances in AI, especially deep learning, have propelled the automotive industry toward autonomous driving, giving new impetus to the traditional industry. Once these advances are achieved, Huawei believes the industry will reach levels 4 and 5, where the computer is responsible for the car, with a seamless connection between the vehicle and its surroundings.

“Even if that holy grail is some ways off, the car’s dependency on data, AI, and connectivity has already been established,” Deuter said. “With the adoption of IoT and 5G networks, more data will be available and actionable, while most data lost its value within seconds in the past. Therefore, if you are able to feed the AI application with more accurate and precise data using less time, the application will improve and more use cases will be possible.”

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