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UK launches first commercial driverless testing lab

The Darwin SatCom Lab, based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, is now open to businesses wishing to investigate test connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles.

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One of the Renault Twizy electric vehicles that has been converted in to a CAV
One of the Renault Twizy electric vehicles that has been converted in to a CAV

The UK’s first commercial lab to trial driverless cars using 5G and satellite technologies has launched in Oxfordshire.

 

The Darwin SatCom Lab, based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, is now open to businesses wishing to investigate test connectivity solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

 

The trial programme is supported by telecommunications provider O2 with backing from the UK government and funding from the UK Space Agency.

 

Converted cars

 

At the site, O2 has already converted two Renault Twizy electric cars into CAVs fitted with lidar sensors which allow them to be controlled from the lab and driven around the campus.

 

It is believed 5G could address many of the technical challenges faced by driverless cars by providing stronger, faster and more reliable data signals. While satellite technology can augment 5G connectivity, allowing the vehicles to operate safely in areas that suffer from poor mobile phone signal.  

 

Using 5G equipment provided by Nokia and geosynchronous communications satellites (GEOs) from satellite operator Hispasat, O2’s team can remotely track the status of each Twizy vehicles, including their position, movement and speed.

 

Mobile phones’ 4G systems operate with a throughput of about one gigabit (1,000 million bits) per second. By contrast, 5G has a data rate of 20 gigabits.

“The UK’s space sector is applying pioneering technologies such as satellite and 5G to essential products and services that will help to transform our everyday lives”

According to O2, reducing the time it takes for information to be sent and received compared to 4G is vital to the development of these cars, and could slash the current 20 milliseconds of lag to one millisecond – the equivalent of a camera flash.

 

“The UK’s space sector is applying pioneering technologies such as satellite and 5G to essential products and services that will help to transform our everyday lives,” said Amanda Solloway, science minister for the UK government.

 

“I am incredibly excited that O2’s first of its kind driverless car lab will enable our most innovative businesses to test these technologies and bring us another step closer to putting self-driving vehicles safely on our roads.”

 

The lab forms part of Project Darwin, a four-year programme backed by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, aimed at developing next generation connectivity technology for connected and autonomous vehicles.

 

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