World's First 5G-Connected Cars Demo'd in Korea

The cars chatted with sub-millisecond lag, enough to make coordinated action feasible

2 min read
bmw cars with 5g communication, korea
Photo: SK Telecom

When cars can share data, maybe they’ll act in unison and drive themselves safely enough for us humans to sit back and daydream. But the car-to-car chat would have to occur at data transfer speeds a lot faster than those our pokey 4G cellular service can muster.

Today, the necessary 5G cellular technology was demonstrated for the first time at a BMW race track near Inchon, in South Korea. Two BMWs shared information with the human drivers; in a future, self-driving setup, such sharing of data might allow cars to coordinate actions almost instantaneously.

The purpose-built 5G network covered 240,000 square meters (59 acres, or about half the size of Vatican City) according to SK Telecom, the South Korean company that installed it along with Sweden’s Ericsson. The back-and-forth communication had less than a millisecond of latency, par for the course for a system with a peak transmission rate of 20 gigabits per second.

Each car had a 5G station of its own, through which on-board cameras could upload ultrahigh-definition video for displaying to an audience. The cars were from the X5 and the S7 series (the first production vehicle to park itself driverlessly, as IEEE Spectrum reportedin April).

The coming of 5G is keeping the idea of cellular car-to-car connections alive. It may even end up driving a stake through the heart of alternative wireless schemes—notably dedicated short range communications, or DSRC, based on IEEE 802.11p. That’s the system upon which Europe’s Cooperative ITS Corridor, from Amsterdam to Vienna, is now being built.

A 5G connection will someday enable self-driving cars to brake in unison. If my car’s AI sees an obstacle as it rounds a bend, it could hit the brakes on both my car and your car, following just behind me. Of course, vehicle-to-vehicle talk won’t be enough: We’ll also need sensor-festooned cars capable of knitting together various kinds of data to make split-second decisions as good as a human driver’s.

That vision is still a ways off. No doubt we’ll first see 5G service in the hands of teenagers, who will use it to send and receive high-def video.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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