The self-driving car has increasingly been at the forefront of technology & IoT news this decade, capturing the imaginations of both technology and automobile industries alike.  The concept of the ‘autonomous automobile’ is nothing new – self-driving and anthropomorphized cars have long captured the hearts of the entertainment industry, from Knight Rider’s KITT to Lightning McQueen.

While the on-screen development of autonomous vehicles first took place decades ago, the technology required to make this concept a reality on our roads has been playing catch up to Hollywood in more recent times.

Such is the demand for the ‘self-driving car’ to ‘hit the road’ – in the past week Mercedes-Benz’ parent company Daimler has teamed up with Bosch, one of the world’s largest supplier of automotive components in order to speed the development of self-driving cars. The two companies want to make fully-automated and driverless cars “a reality on city streets” by the start of the next decade.

Daimler and Bosch are not alone in their pursuit of autonomous functionality for the automobile industry, some of the world’s biggest technology companies and motor companies have also made significant announcements in 2017 with regards to self-driving car technology. In March of 2017, Intel acquired Mobileye, a leading automotive supplier of sensor systems that help prevent collisions for $15.3 billion.

We are swiftly moving towards the reality that cars will communicate with each other and the world around them on a deeper level than the current sensors which are present in many modern vehicles. This presents incredible opportunities for increased road safety as well as mobile offices and mobile experience services.

One of the drivers of this is the development of 5G connectivity. When we wrote about the development of 5G in 2014 on the Verify blog it was really only in its infancy, but now with the 2020 target approaching, the results are beginning to show.

David Talbot of TechnologyReview.com explained that 5G isn’t just a network –that “5G will become the underlying fabric of an entire ecosystem of fully connected intelligent sensors and devices, capable of overhauling economic and business policies, and further blurring geographical and cultural borders.”

5G is expected to provide internet connections which are 40 times faster and with four times greater global coverage than the current 4G LTE standard. However, autonomous vehicles will only achieve their expected functionality through a combination of intelligent devices and 5G connectivity.

The network of connected cars will be reliant on split-second communication with no room for error in addition to the cameras, sensors, radars, lidars and satellite mapping in order to avoid traffic chaos and enjoy all the benefits that these autonomous vehicles can offer.

The importance of 5G can be recognised by the creation of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), a group of 33 members which includes Audi, BMW and Daimler from the motor industry and the companies like Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia and Qualcomm from the telecoms industry. The automotive industry recognises it will need the expertise of the technology and telecoms sectors in order to succeed.

Autonomous vehicles will only achieve their expected functionality through a combination of intelligent devices and 5G connectivity. The network of connected cars will be reliant on split-second communication with no room for error in addition to the cameras, sensors, radars, lidars and satellite mapping in order to avoid traffic chaos and enjoy all the benefits that these autonomous vehicles can offer. Reliability, low latency and the ability to handle the flood of data coming from cars will be essential.

With estimations that the market will be worth $290 billion by 2035 it is inevitable that more companies will be drawn to it. BMW and Intel have announced that they will test 40 autonomous vehicles in 2017 and they are looking to have the BMW iNEXT on roads 2021. Audi working with Nvidia are targeting a 2020 release for their model. Google, Uber and Tesla are already testing their products. Qualcomm are working with a number of companies driving this technology and relying on 5G.

Clearly autonomous vehicles are on the horizon and there is scope for various businesses to break ground in this area. While some companies may seek to build the physical vehicle, others may intend to work on developing the ‘eyes’ or ‘the brain’ of the vehicle – not dissimilar to how manufacturers supply currently supply independent components of vehicles.

Looking to Ireland, Irish and Irish-based companies such as Analog Devices, Valeo, Druid, Cubic Telecom, Taoglas, ImageVision and u-blox are also at the forefront of this revolution working with some of the biggest companies in the world providing the solutions that will make autonomous vehicles a reality.

In relation to 5G, Ireland is leading Europe by announcing the rollout of 5G in 2019 a year ahead of the European target.

In addition to being a European leader in 5G developments, Ireland’s Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG) in Waterford Institute of Technology and the CONNECT Centre in Trinity College have both been chosen to lead the charge on Europe’s 5G research in order to help build the infrastructure needed for the 5G networks of the future.

In light of major technology and automotive industry players’ apparent haste to advance the development of the autonomous automobiles in 2017 so far, the arrival of chatty cars like Lightning McQueen could be sooner than we imagined.

What we thought was science fiction is coming true as we speak.

CEO of Nvidia, Jen-Hsun Huang

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Verify Recruitment is a specialist consultancy which recruits for technology organizations throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe. Founded in 2009, Verify Recruitment is the preferred consultancy of innovative technology clients, ranging from indigenous Irish start-ups to globally recognised brands.