Believe it or not – automated driving made it to the stage at one of the coolest meets and greets these days – the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference last week in Austin, Texas. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, a first-time visitor to SXSW, spoke about his vision for future mobility and the importance of excellent digital maps in this vision. According to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, he also said it’s no longer good enough to be better than a German competitor from Bavaria. Instead, Daimler would have to be better than all companies which are driving future mobility – a clear hint towards Google and Apple.
What does this tell us? SXSW has grown-up? Maybe. But more importantly, it shows that the car industry is in the middle of a digital transformation and has clearly understood that they need new partners and new ecosystems to be successful in the future – like many of those creative people, digital community and start-ups who attended SXSW.
Elsewhere, new ecosystems are forming too. For example, the collaborative research project “MEC-View” in Ulm, which includes Nokia, the University and the city of Ulm, Osram, Daimler, Bosch, TomTom and others.
While industry partners have tested automated vehicles on the Autobahn for some years now – such as the A9 project involving Deutsche Telekom, Continental, Fraunhofer Institut and Nokia – automated driving tests in cities have just started. And there is another new aspect: In the MEC-View project, cars are not connected to other cars, but to cameras in street lanterns. This data, from lanterns and cars, are aggregated by Multi-access Edge Computing servers and combined with digital maps stored on the server. All data is merged into a real-time view of the traffic situation – with a better oversight than sensors in cars alone could provide. This view is transmitted to the automated cars by a low-latency mobile network, enabling them to make the right decision in any situation.
Have you ever wondered how a motor bike suddenly appears “out of nowhere” on a crossroad that you’re about to enter? The sensors of your car might not pick up the bike on a crossroad hundreds of metres away, but the video cameras mounted on street lanterns at the crossing certainly will. Aggregating that data and transmitting a full view of the situation back to your car must happen in within a fraction of a second. The solution is therefore the network. It needs to be designed in a way which minimizes data transport times – with Multi-Access Edge Computing. It needs to make use of the right technologies – fast LTE, and in the future low-latency 5G. It needs to cope with broadband video from cameras as well as with narrow-band sensor data.
Now, as a driver, you might ask yourself, who is paying for such intelligent infrastructure. Well, it could be us, the drivers, through taxes. It could be telco operators who in turn sell us an automated driving service on top of our data plan. And it could be the city – when this city is interested in positioning itself as a “Smart City”. I am convinced, many cities will invest in intelligent infrastructure to become more attractive for their inhabitants. Intelligent infrastructure supporting easy traffic flows could actually become a location criterion for companies. In the end, business models could even be a mix of these three – and many more options.
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