More Than High Speeds, Being on Edge Is Paramount for Autonomous Vehicles

January 20, 2021

Written by Caio Castro
inside of a car

If cars could talk, more than speaking quickly, they would demand instant answers from all the machines they chat with – cloud systems, map services, you name it. That is exactly what autonomous vehicles will need in the future to secure a safe and reliable operation, according to experts that spoke at CES 2021.

“When people think about 5G, they think ‘I’m going to get faster downloads on my handset,’ which is great,” said Penny Schlyer, Director, Industry Product Marketing at Here Technologies.

“However, it is really the combination of not only 5G but the Mobile Edge Computing that allows us to take that processing power required to capture all of the data and communicate it in a timely way that can’t necessarily happen on the phone,” she added.

Mobile Edge Computing or Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is a network architecture that moves the cloud services “to the edge”, that is, closer to the device. Because machine and service are closer, the latency in communication decreases, enabling faster responses.

According to Schlyer, the combination of 5G and MEC is paramount for vehicle-to-network communication to happen, as well as the situational awareness required to provide drivers with real-time alerts.

That means a lot of data is involved. “When we think about location, as vehicles start to gain access to superfast connectivity and interact with cars in the opposite direction, it also needs to expand its access to context,” Laura Cochran, Director of Product and Customer Success at Verizon, explained.

“As humans, we know what surrounds us. We can see it, we can look around and process it. When we start to move some of our brainpower for driving to the vehicle, we need to provide them with things like high-definition maps, a type of precise positioning that will come together to enable vehicles to operate on the road safely and efficiently in the future.”

For MEC to operate, carriers need to build specific infrastructure. Cochran affirmed that Verizon plans to launch more than 10 Mobile Edge Computing locations out over the next year. The company already has locations available in Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Francisco.

Maps

Another autonomous vehicle enabler should be high-definition, real-time maps, according to Schlyer. They will be able to deliver not only positioning information but also to identify movable and immovable objects on the road, including pedestrians and stalled cars, reducing the odds of an accident.

Those real-time maps should also replace GPS services, whose signal is often weak or even unavailable in certain areas, to some extent.

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