O2, UK Space Agency and ESA to support CAV trials under Project Darwin

Image: Project Darwin will be based in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. Photo: courtesy of Telefónica UK Limited.

Mobile communications major O2, the UK Space Agency, and the European Space Agency (ESA) are joining forces to support a four-year trial programme called Project Darwin aimed at developing next generation connectivity technology for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

Project Darwin will involve testing of new technology and end-to-end connectivity solutions such as 5G and satellite communications with an objective to create a new CAV industry vertical.

According to the UK Space Agency, next generation telecoms satellites will make sure that vehicles remain connected outside of towns and cities which usually have good mobile signals.

Project Darwin, which will be based in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, will see the participation of Oxford and Glasgow Universities, Hispasat, a Spanish satellite operator, and start-ups with expertise in self-driving mobility solutions and Darwin Innovation Group Oxford, an innovation company engaged in connecting terrestrial and satellite communications.

O2 COO Derek McManus 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.

“Our approach to this project is part of our wider strategy to collaborate with British businesses, partners and start-ups to unlock the possibilities of 5G for customers and wider UK economy.”

Starting from next month, the high-level design and definition phase of the trial programme will kick off at Harwell to study key connected vehicle and vehicle-SIM platforms and also artificial intelligence (AI) neural network integration. From next year, the project targets to demonstrate the first proof of concepts.

Last year’s research by O2 found that CAVs are likely to generate high levels of data of 4TB per hour, which highlights the necessity for Project Darwin and others to look into next generation connectivity solutions.

Under Project Darwin, an ARTES ‘Partner Study’ programme will be held with the support of the UK government to help define all the various elements required to deliver the larger programme.

UK Space Agency growth director Catherine Mealing-Jones said: “Autonomous vehicles need robust, high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively. 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.

“The future of mobility is one of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges, and this project will help ensure this critical technology is developed in Harwell, bringing expertise, jobs and growth to the UK.”

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