Bridging The Gap Between Driven And Driverless Cars

Today, 91{d758473eadf0b692d331aa823300cffd0ef21fd1fd535177f3429dd328b70b5d} of car accidents worldwide are caused by some form of human error. Moving to ADAS functions, such as Automatic Emergency Braking or Lane Keep Assist, and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will significantly improve road safety and reduce costs associated with accidents, such as car and highway repair, police, ambulance, and insurance. However, to be fully autonomous will take many years, if not decades. The transition to driverless cars will be gradual, with semi-autonomous functionality cropping up in both Level 2 and Level 2+ vehicles. But until automobiles can navigate any road, any climate, and through any situation all on their own, they will need a degree of assistance or driver awareness.

To bridge the gap – and create a more autonomous driving experience sooner – automobiles could hand control back to the driver with tele-operation.

Picture this: A teleoperator walks up to his desk, where a video game steering wheel, two pedals and a row of three monitors await. He sits down and immediately grabs the wheel, waiting for the right moment to take action. He probably looks like a NASCAR driver in training or professional gamer preparing for a competitive match. In reality, he has the power to remotely control a real motor vehicle through difficult and/or confusing scenarios such as complex urban road systems.

For example, what happens if an unlikely barrier (such as a road sign that fell from an overpass or a billboard that tipped over) is blocking a road? A Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5 vehicle will know how to stop on its own, but it might not be able to determine the next step, as it is a unique corner condition (which can be learned over time). Without a steering wheel, occupants would be left stranded until a tow truck arrives or until the barrier is removed.

With teleoperation, control instead could be handed over to a remote driver to navigate around the barrier. Tapping into the vehicle’s onboard cameras and sensors like LIDAR, various RADARs, the teleoperator would have complete visibility of the vehicle’s world environment, allowing for safe and seamless maneuvering.

Making great use of 5G
Current connectivity options are relatively limited to 4G functionality in most vehicles, including Wi-Fi hotspot services and basic telematics information. Some cars also use 4G to provide over-the-air updates. But 5G will take connectivity much further, opening the door to a number of features that will ultimately shape the future of mobility due to its low latency and always connected nature. It will also support the very high bandwidth required by such vehicles.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding the need for 5G in AVs, but most of it involves cloud connectivity for road conditions, traffic volume and navigation. That’s just the start – a faster cellular network also will be a vital part of teleoperation as a service. With it, teleoperators will have a seamless, real-time connection that allows them to take control of a semi-autonomous vehicle whenever necessary in perfect safety.

Unlike current cellular options, 5G will provide a ubiquitous and persistent online connection. With superior bandwidth and low latency, 5G will be less likely to suffer from the hiccups that lead to fluctuations in connectivity. By the time fully AVs are ready to be deployed, we will surely have moved on to an even faster and more reliable cellular solution. Whether or not that will be 6G or something else entirely remains to be seen. In the interim, 5G will materially benefit the industry advance to the next phase of mobility.

Monitoring a fleet from anywhere
The same technology being developed for teleoperation could also provide security and stability for fleet managers. This could become an important factor for commercial vehicles even before Level 4/5 passenger cars have been deployed. Long-haul trucks, for example, are expected to be some of the first vehicles to embrace driverless technology. But as the driver’s role transitions away from vehicle control and becomes more about the freight and ensuring it’s delivered safely, the need for monitoring will increase. Commercial fleets will need a command center, if you will, to guide, analyze and manage each vehicle.

With the technology already in place, the role of a teleoperator could then involve commercial fleet monitoring and platoon driving. From real-time views of the road ahead to searching for potential hazards and other obstacles, this will prove to be an invaluable tool for fleet management. And for trucks that aren’t fully autonomous, teleoperation would also be useful for taking control of the vehicle whenever necessary.

Teleoperation might even reduce the impact of the worsening commercial driver shortage. Imagine how much easier it would be to commandeer a big-rig truck for many hours from the comfort of home or from an office. This could improve the attractiveness of the job.

Driving toward the future
The future of mobility is still being developed and defined, but teleoperation could be one way to bridge the gap between driven and driverless vehicles. With a remote driver ready to take the wheel at a moment’s notice, more advanced levels of autonomy could arrive sooner than anticipated.

Imagination has been a key enabler for leading-edge automotive products since 2006. Its graphics processing units (GPUs and Neural Network Accelerators(NNA) have been licensed by multiple leading automotive applications processor vendors, including DENSO, Renesas, Socionext, Texas Instruments (TI) and others.

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