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Autonomous vehicles: GATEway and the smart cities of the future

Vinnett Taylor, Head of IoT Sales at Telefonica, reports on the implications of introducing autonomous vehicles on our city streets.

Last month O2 was in Greenwich, celebrating the completion of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project. Over three years, O2 has been part of a consortium researching how to implement connected and automated vehicles effectively in an urban environment, and the technical, legal and societal challenges that autonomous vehicles present.

The project has been part of a wider brief to understand the role automated vehicles will play in future urban transport networks and the barriers we must overcome before they become a reality on our roads.

The GATEway project has trialled five propositions, each of which will be required as we introduce autonomous vehicles onto our streets on a wider scale.

  1. Automated passenger shuttle trials, which have looked at how we might use automated shuttle vehicles for small scale last mile / first mile passenger transport services.
  2. Automated urban deliveries trials, that have considered how automated vehicles can be employed for the delivery of goods (e.g. from the depot to a residential neighbourhood).
  3. Remote teleoperations, demonstrating how a human operator can recover a fully automated vehicle to a safe mode of operation.
  4. Automous valet parking, to simulate your vehicle parking itself as you arrive at your destination and the ability to recall it to collect you for your return journey.
  5. High-fidelity simulator trials, that have investigated how drivers react and adapt their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.

At the Greenwich event, we presented the project’s research and findings over its three-year lifespan, and explained their relevance and potential for future transport infrastructures.

O2’s focus has been on understanding the networking implications of automated vehicles and the impact they will have on its business and consumers’ connectivity needs. If autonomous transport is to become a major component of the smart city of the future then it will demand an infrastructure that delivers fast, reliable and secure connectivity at all times. Part of O2’s role in the project has involved working with the borough’s digital transformation teams and the autonomous control system providers to understand their local connectivity requirements and the implications these requirements may have on our network.

The results have been extremely positive. Whilst our existing 4G network infrastructure has been sufficient to deliver our partners’ needs for the GATEway project, the rollout of 5G over the next few years will help deliver high speed, low latency data that smart cities will demand.

One of the principal areas of focus for the GATEway project has been on safety. The GATEway pods used a combination of sensors, cameras, lasers and software to safely navigate their way between leisure sites and residential locations around the Greenwich Peninsular. They were also tested and proved able to operate in adverse weather conditions, or even in the dark – a global first for this technology. But the safety concerns went beyond the pods themselves, and high-fidelity simulator trials investigated how drivers of regular vehicles responded and adapted their behaviour to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.

Unlike many other autonomous vehicle trials, GATEway has focused less on developing new technologies, and more on improving our understanding of the public and industry perception and acceptance of autonomous vehicles. As Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica (O2’s parent company) explains:

“In my view, too much time is spent analysing the technology and not enough time on what it means for citizens. To realise the benefits of 5G-enabled smart cities we must work together to design and build in the technology now.”

It is projects like GATEway that bring the concept of smart cities a step closer. According to research commissioned by O2, the 5G-connected smart city of the future will be able to save the average household as much as £450 each year from energy savings, efficiency improvements, reduced waste and productivity gains.

We believe that connected and autonomous vehicles will play a significant role in future transport systems, and will transform the transportation and logistics business. The UK has already taken a lead in research and development in this area, and the government is confident that it will attract further international investment and lead to growth in our economy as well as new jobs in an exciting field of technology.

O2 has just published a report on the value of 5G for cities and communities. You can download it here.

But it isn’t only about the future. O2 already offers smart vehicle IoT (Internet of Things) solutions, enabling logistics businesses to run a more productive and efficient fleet with industry-leading telematics. Find out more here

What do you think? What impact will autonomous transport have on your business? I would love to hear your views. You can contact me via LinkedIn.

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