First 5G driverless car tested in NZ


Wednesday, 13 March, 2019


First 5G driverless car tested in NZ

The first 5G-connected driverless car in New Zealand has undergone testing on Auckland streets.

The test drive took place in a controlled area at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct, as a result of collaboration between Spark New Zealand and Ohmio Automotion.

It made use of Spark’s pre-commercial 5G network, available as part of its 5G Innovation Lab.

Spark launched its Innovation Lab in November 2018 to showcase 5G technology to New Zealand businesses. Now, Spark’s network team will begin working closely with Kiwi businesses to test the technical capabilities of 5G and enhance products and experiences.

The 5G-connected driverless car was developed by Ohmio, a New Zealand company which has been trialling autonomous vehicles at Christchurch airport. Since these trials, the car has been upgraded with new technology to ensure it integrates with Spark’s 5G test network.

“We believe this test with Spark is only the second of its type in the world. Today has demonstrated some of the exciting opportunities 5G will enable for our autonomous car technology,” said Dr Mahmood Hikmet, Ohmio’s Head of Research and Development.

“A 5G network can be up to 100 times faster than 4G, which unlocks the true potential for autonomous driving, as messages need to be transmitted and decisions made in real time. A significant drop in latency — or the reaction time when one device talks to another — will give cars human-like reflexes and opens up multiple possibilities for connected infrastructure and a smart city ecosystem.”

The 5G-connected car carries up to four people. Using a tablet, passengers are able to hail the car, which moves down the street to collect you. Inside, a dashboard explains what the car is monitoring in real time using LiDAR technology to help make sense of the surrounding environment.

While the vehicle is capable of driving itself at up to 25 km/h, the trial will cap the vehicle’s top speed at 7 km/h during the pre-programmed test drive loop lasting approximately seven minutes.

Ohmio plans to launch more driverless cars in more closed facilities across New Zealand, including airports, university campuses, retirement villages and hospitals.

It also plans to gain on-road certification and look for opportunities to use the cars on public streets alongside regular vehicles. One example of this is a ‘First and Last Mile Solution’ to carry people short distances and provide a connection to or from transport hubs, reducing the need for park-and-rides.

“Many industries and businesses in New Zealand will have their own ideas on what their 5G-enabled transformative technology could be. We want to encourage businesses to begin thinking about their own ‘driverless car’ technology, and how they can prepare for the future of 5G,” said Colin Brown, Spark’s Lead for Network Evolution.

“5G was a major feature at Mobile World Congress, having launched in a number of markets with businesses across multiple industries, from gaming to health care, already taking advantage to launch new products and services for customers.”

Spark’s preparation and testing for the 5G network started in March last year with a 5G mobile speed test in Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, Spark achieved speeds of up to 18 Gbps — which is around 100 times faster than many typical New Zealand wireless device users currently experience.

Image caption: New Zealand’s first 5G-connected driverless car being test-driven on the streets around Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.

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