Telecoms provider O2 and the European Space Agency (ESA) are set to launch a four-year trial to develop a back-up satellite system for driverless cars in Oxfordshire.

The project, dubbed Darwin, will test the high-speed data connections required by driverless vehicles to operate efficiently and safely.

Project Darwin will also explore ways to ensure vehicles stay connected in places that typically have poorer mobile signals, such as rural areas.

“Building the technology to link them to telecoms satellites will allow you to take your car wherever you want to go, and not just to areas with a strong mobile signal,” said Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth at the UK Space Agency.

A driverless car is expected to generate four terabytes of data per hour, according to O2 research.

The telecommunications firm is yet to launch a consumer 5G network. However, it has announced plans to create 5G networks for business and industrial uses, such as driverless car testing in Bedfordshire.

The project will take place at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, near Oxford. From July 2019 the project will explore key connected vehicle and simulation platforms, as well as integrating artificial intelligence neural networks.

In 2020 project Darwin hopes to showcase some of its ‘proof of concepts’.

Derek McManus, COO at O2 said: “Project Darwin is an important piece of the connected and autonomous vehicle puzzle. The research taking place at Harwell during the next four years will be vital in the creation of new transport ecosystems for the UK public and the companies that will offer these services.”

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Oxford and Glasgow universities, Spanish satellite operator Hispasat and the Darwin Innovation Group Oxford will also partner to test the driverless car satellite system.

Daniela Petrovic, Darwin Innovation Group co-founder said: “Our aim is that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) developed by project Darwin will benefit society in multiple ways: by creating new apprenticeships in this newly developing area, informing policies and regulations related to connected and autonomous vehicles, and creating a new industry vertical.”

Funding will be provided through the UK Space Agency’s investment in the ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme. The UK government will provide £2m of funding for the first phase. Since 2014, it has invested £120m in CAV projects.

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Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “This new partnership between Government and industry will build on our world-leading reputation in the development and manufacture of satellites even further, to bring together two of the UK’s great strengths – automotive and space.

“Putting us at the forefront of the next generation of self-driving cars of tomorrow – a key ambition in our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Dr Stephan von Delft, University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School added: “Ecosystems that connect data, technologies and users create opportunities for business model innovation. However, new business models for 5G connected ecosystems will not emerge fully formed.

“Firms must therefore systematically explore, test and adopt new business models as conditions change. Our research aims to support Project Darwin in this process.”


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