UK’s first 5G autonomous vehicle test bed launches

The 5G-enabled test track could accelerate autonomous vehicle development in the UK.
18 February 2019

The Millbrook mobile network. Source: Millbrook

The UK’s first independent 5G-enabled infrastructure for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) has launched to aid the development of the country’s driverless ambitions.

Launched at vehicle testing facility Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire by AutoAir, a consortium led by Airspan Networks, the launch event saw stakeholders witness CAV control at “5G-like” data transfer speeds of 1Gbps, made possible by 23 ‘small cell’ base station sites surrounding the facility’s high-speed circuit.

The mobile network infrastructure installed at Millbrook Proving Ground

The mobile network infrastructure installed at Millbrook Proving Ground. Source: Millbrook

This demonstration showed off several 5G features, such as a high capacity data uplink that can be used for the real-time monitoring of test vehicles.

The launch means CAV developers now have access to low latency, wide-area wireless infrastructure and, notably, follows the start of the development of China’s ‘smart highway’ — a road system designed to support cellular network-coordinated transportation services, including autonomous vehicles.

For the UK, capability offered by the testing ground is crucial for the validation and testing of level three to level five autonomous vehicles, which require high-speed testing and real-time connectivity to compare the ‘real world’ outcomes with decision-making simulations.

The infrastructure enables self-driving vehicle testing to be carried out in a secure environment using a private, tuneable mobile network.

Developers can simulate weak and strong cell signal and understand the impact of hills and other terrains in a single location while having access to all data generated during testing. They can also create virtual events using augmented and virtual reality for vehicles on track, allowing them safely to test complex scenarios and edge cases.

The infrastructure makes it possible to monitor, gather and distribute vehicle test data such as video, telematics, tracking and control in real-time. Testing applications include rail, infotainment, cybersecurity, simulation, network location trials, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and cellular vehicle to everything technology, or C-V2X.

The launch follows a recent announcement by the UK government that the country is “on track” to accommodate driverless vehicles on its roads by as early as 2021, despite legislation, policing and insurance issues being far from resolved, and questions over consumer demand remaining.

According to the UK’s Department for Transport, the CAV market could be worth US$ 67 billion in the country by 2035.

“Thanks to the UK’s world-class research base, this country is in the vanguard of the development of new transport technologies, including automation,” said Transport Minister Jesse Norman.

“The government is supporting the safe, transparent trialing of this pioneering technology, which could transform the way we travel.”

Paul Senior, CSO of Airspan Networks said, “AutoAir at Millbrook is one of the most ambitious 5G Testbeds and Trials sites in the world […] the project has now completed the deployment of a hyper-dense small cell network that delivers ultra-high capacities which enables a range of new CAV use cases to be explored.”