5G connections: Cars become travelling networks
According to many experts in the field of generational wireless, the coming fifth generation (5G) major upgrade will create the actual Internet of Things, a concept of connected machinery that heretofore has been a scattered collection rather than a cohesive system. Cars (and larger vehicles) are quickly becoming stand-alone computer servers, but the next step makes them capable of becoming communication centers, entertainment complexes and full-service electronic outlets.
Strong connections to satellites through GPS are being improved continually, but the 5G computing connections will be reliable enough for vehicle-to-vehicle alerts, which will become the top safety feature in or on the vehicle. Aircraft being targeted for more connected flight, so much so that it is hoped planes will become their own worldwide network. The same is hoped for cars and trucks, and sooner rather than later.
What has happened in the cell phone industry – technology advancing so quickly that people want the next generation of phone every year or two – is happening in cars too. (1) Leasing a car instead of buying has increased threefold in the last eight years in the U.S., and one big reason is that customers crave the latest technology. Owning a car for ten years seems like an eternity today.
We will look at some of the demand driving the development of 5G, and what equipment makers are doing now to help build the nanotechnology it will need.
Of course, the big question is, “When?”
A report issued this year notes that 5G is still a concept, as were 3G and 4G for several years before they were established. While saying predictions of the future in wireless have failed miserably, the report notes that some experts think 5G is just around the corner. “According to prevailing wisdom, the first networks built on the standard will be rolled out in 2020,” this report said. However, a lot of other industry professionals believe it is at minimum in three to five years before a reliable, very large 5G IoT-capable network is in service. Since 3G and 4G were designed and rolled out in about a decade each, five years seems to be about right (2).
Last year, the 5GAA organization was created, with the specific goal of helping bring 5G networking out as soon as possible, and making sure vehicles are equipped to use it for all systems. Several high-tech companies are on board, but the association is careful not to put any time lines into its discussions. We will visit 5GAA later to see some of the initiatives it has in the pipeline.
Can vehicles drive themselves?
While the automotive world has been entranced by self-driving cars for the last five years, many practical designers have listened to marketers who realize the importance of features in vehicles still driven by people. After all, should vehicle technology explode in the self-driving realm inside the vehicle, the infrastructure necessary to allow the cars to operate on millions of miles of roadway is decades away. (3)
If the technology envisioned today is used, cars must communicate with road signs, traffic signals and even the lines painted on the highway, as well as satellites and each other.
So, let’s look at the most practical uses for 5G in the next five years. Vehicle capabilities are already astounding. Lane alerts, extremely accurate GPS, engine control and automatic suspension adjustment are just some of the technology not available just a few years ago.
And five years hence? Vehicles in this realm can sustain an owner’s electronic needs comfortably: devices will live-stream video conferences or live TV; they will record and play back in about any format; the systems that now control temperatures in the passenger cabin will power up motors (or the engine) automatically; they will offer fast Internet connections for working in a portable, four-wheeled office. (3)
Detecting hundreds of devices at once: IoT on steroids
One of the complex problems to solve communications problems inside the car is creating a high-density, ultra-reliable receiving array that can not only handle hundreds of devices at once but continually add and drop devices at high vehicle speeds. Multi-functional, miniature antenna arrays will be mounted in vehicles to accomplish this task. (4) Many devices and antennae will be nano-scaled, according to 5GAA.
The electronic technology used to accomplish this speed and diversity is still in the explorative state. In this report (2), the authors note that a lot of money is being spent on its development.
“The EU and South Korea for example have signed a deal to work together on 5G development, while both have promised €700m and $1.5bn respectively in funding for local 5G projects. In the UK, £70m of funding is going to build a 5G research facility, known as the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC).”
This center has been running for a couple of years now, and offers an infrastructure framework in which designers can test their products. Students and faculty at the University of Surrey work with private companies to reach 5G goals.
Keywords drive car technology: ‘dynamic’ and ‘intelligent’
At the top of the wish list for 5G connectivity is:
1. Dynamic: The software works with the hardware to dynamically adjust to signals, adding instant potency to a critical transaction while taking that power from a resting node. Dynamic action incorporates fluidity, self-healing and scalability, but is more powerful than all three.
2. Intelligent: This dynamic changeability recognizes the hierarchy of critical systems; understands failures in automobiles by their class/dangerousness to the occupants; always seeks the best power-to-performance avenue available in the geographic area at that moment in real time. (4)
The 5GAA paper on this “dynamic” vehicle-to-everything (V2X) IoT development involves many companies
When people talk about the “connected car,” they often mean the driverless car. These are two very different concepts. Driverless cars used on a massive scale are still the stuff of science fiction. We certainly have wonderful prototypes that can operate in small, controlled environments, such as the new Mercedes sedan that drives off the assembly line and parks itself for shipment.
However, the connected car of the next few years will be a service-oriented powerhouse of mobile data storage and use. (5) In the interim between today and self-drivers throughout the land, some innovations will continue to help drivers and passengers be safe, secure and entertained.
Let’s start with safety upgrades. This report notes that, as of 2017, cars have had sensors that
• help drivers stay in lanes
• report battery, tire and engine health on a detailed scale
• sense objects ahead and behind
• receive and report accidents and construction on highways
• automatically reduce speed when using cruise control
These features have been around for several years, and some for over a decade, but there will be upgrades to these in the coming 5G world. By 2021, according to this report, your car should be able to sense a disabled vehicle ahead and perhaps know what is wrong with it. A vehicle’s second-to-second health report will upload automatically to a cloud system or a mechanic’s database for your next visit.
Staying in lane will be joined by your vehicle’s ability to automatically change lanes in emergencies, or if you programmed it to leave the highway if there are no vehicles around, as it senses everything from lampposts to road signs to weather conditions.
Self-braking will happen even when the driver has no idea there is an object in the way, much the same as the cruise releases today. Cameras and mini-sensors will pick up what “should not be there,” another amazing milestone in intelligent software.
In the auto cabin, things will change. Volvo is now working on a system (5) that will change the cabin much the way today’s airliners do: adjusting for day and night travel, changing colors and intensity of light, and changing the texture and firmness of seats. “Preparing for a cinema presentation” will be one of your smart screen’s announcements.
Will security slow everything down?
Now for the elephant in the 5G room that everyone knows about but few want to ponder: cybersecurity and the more connected world on wheels. Privacy issues often throw a wrench into the gears pushing more data sharing and connected networks, but security takes the lead in a moving machinery world where a single error can be catastrophic. Security of the system from attack is as important as security in the performance of equipment.
According to one report (6), if a hacker gains access to one control unit in a vehicle, he can chain-link to more and more until he can control the car. The trick was done on a Jeep Cherokee last year when hacker shut down the transmission of the moving SUV. This calls for a new set of firewall protocols that will again use “intelligent and dynamic” software to understand that the attack is contrary, shut out any further access and repair the damage or at least warn the occupants.
Each control unit should have its own security. After that, an overall security system on a different platform should be in continuous use, the report said. Any system connected to the Internet, like news and entertainment, must have another layer of security entirely; and the process goes on to the major cyber companies providing services.
Overall, with 5G ready to connect machines that involve the safety of everyone around them, public and private entities must not be reactive, the report said, but must look to be over-secure from the beginning, if such a thing is possible.