Darwin SatCom gets into gear with first UK commercial 5G, satellite autonomous vehicles test lab

Businesses can use lab to explore and trial next-gen connectivity for autonomous vehicles based on 5G and satellite communications, with O2-customised vehicles available to test proofs of concept

After a four-year trial supported by the telco and the European Space Agency, O2 has announced that the Darwin SatCom Lab is now open to companies looking to explore next-generation connectivity for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) using both 5G and satellite communications.

First announced in June 2019, Project Darwin brings together Oxford and Glasgow Universities, Hispasat, startups specialising in self-driving mobility solutions and Darwin Innovation Group Oxford, to test new technologies and end-to-end connectivity with 5G and satellite communications.

Based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, the test centre will now allow companies to test proofs of concept using two Renault TWIZY electric cars, which the operator has converted into CAVs and fitted with Lidar sensors to allow them to be controlled from the lab and driven around the Harwell campus.

O2 said satellite communications can play a crucial role in the extension of 5G networks to allow seamless connectivity to remote and harder-to-reach areas for trains and road vehicles, providing reliable access to the whole of the UK.

Using 5G equipment provided by Nokia and geosynchronous communications satellites (GEOs) from Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, the Telefónica-owned firm’s 5G innovation team can remotely track the status of the CAVs, including their position, movement and speed. A digital twin version will also be broadcast to screens in O2’s laboratory at the University of Glasgow and at the company’s headquarters in Slough.

Among the proofs of concept already being tested at the Darwin SatCom Lab is a project to track the CO2 emissions of vehicles using the Lidar sensors. By using satellite imagery to see the areas the vehicles are travelling through and monitor local biodiversity, the lab team says it can calculate the emissions savings of taking different routes based on carbon capture from nearby trees.

O2 believes such research will also be of use to its retail partners in how they carry out last-mile deliveries, bringing goods such as groceries directly to their customers.

Read more about 5G in transport

“The lab is further proof that O2 is at the forefront of connectivity and accelerating Britain’s recovery by helping British businesses to harness the power of 5G and satellite communications in order to benefit their customers,” said O2 COO Derek McManus. “It’s the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener.”

Rodrigo Barreto, head of enterprise architecture at the Darwin Innovation Group, added: “We are very excited that the Darwin SatCom Lab, in partnership with Telefónica and Hispasat, offers companies a place where they can test innovative solutions and develop proof points to support new initiatives. The strength of the lab lies in combining 5G and satellite communications, opening up the possibility of creating mobility services that can fall back on satellite communications in scenarios where 5G is not always available.”

Businesses that would like to develop a proof of concept can book the Lab at darwin.eaglelab.net.

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