We might not drive cars any more in the future; instead, they'll drive us. Self-driving cars are currently a hot topic, widely discussed in the media and at trade fairs.
The accompanying pictures usually show the vehicle occupants relaxing, perusing their smartphones or tablet PCs while the car drives. They are probably using the LTE mobile communications technology, which already ensures fast data transfers today and will likely be the method of choice in future, as well. Only for the car passengers? No, probably for the cars, too – for safety's sake.
Together with the Huawei technology group and Deutsche Telekom, Audi, Toyota and other car manufacturers are currently testing the suitability of this mobile communications technology on a stretch of the A9 freeway near Ingolstadt. They are using an evolutionary stage of the technology called LTE-Vehicular, or LTE-V for short.
Seen from the outside, they seem to be just like any other cars on the Bavarian section of the freeway. Although perhaps the many antennas on their roofs are a bit unusual. Inside the car, a picture like you might imagine self-driving vehicles to be: on the back seat, the passengers seem fairly relaxed, looking at their… ok, laptops with measuring applications. And these computers are connected by cables to the antennas on the roof and the special equipment in the trunk. To enable this, parts of the back seat have been removed, to facilitate the cable routing.
The developers are measuring reaction times, signal strengths and other numbers that give them answers to their questions. If the tests have a positive result, this LTE-V technology could actually become part of 5G, the next generation of the global communications standard. Why would that be a good thing? Because this 5th generation will have to manage communications for the entire Internet of Things. This includes cars as well as bikes – and maybe even sensors in our clothes. So you could say that 5G will connect all transport users with one another in future. This would be an ideal foundation for truly making street traffic safer for everyone. Your car would then know that a pedestrian is about to walk across the street behind the bus ahead, before you can even see him with your own eyes. Likewise, before you turn onto a different street, an alert could be generated by an approaching cyclist that you overlooked before, but who your autonomous car has to stop for.
Of course, as long as LTE-V is still in the testing phase, this is still a far-off scenario. Just the same, it's important to gain insights as early as possible. Because they make us smarter today, so we can make our lives more convenient – and safer – tomorrow.