O2 to help driverless cars stay connected outside towns and cities

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The UK Space Agency is joining forces with O2 to develop technology needed to keep driverless cars connected out of towns and cities.


The new ‘Darwin’ programme aims to test seamless high speed data connections using 5G and satellites. Next generation telecoms satellites will ensure that vehicles stay connected outside of towns and cities which typically have good mobile signals.

Autonomous vehicles will transform travel with safer, smoother and smarter road journeys through high levels of automation facilitated by being able to communicate with other vehicles and to road infrastructure around them.

However, they require robust and seamless high-speed data connections to operate their complex systems effectively. O2 research shows that driverless cars are expected to generate unprecedented levels of data – 4TB per hour – highlighting the need for next generation connectivity.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “This new partnership between Government and industry will build on our world-leading reputation in the development and manufacture of satellites even further, to bring together two of the UK’s great strengths – automotive and space. Putting us at the forefront of the next generation of self-driving cars of tomorrow – a key ambition in our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Since 2014, the Government has invested significantly into the research and development of driverless cars — including £120 million in driverless car projects, with a further £68 million coming from industry contributions.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth, UK Space Agency, added: “Autonomous vehicles require robust high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively, so building the technology to link autonomous vehicles to telecoms satellites means that you will be able to take your car wherever you want to go, not just where there’s decent mobile signal.

“The future of mobility is one of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges, so I’m delighted to support Project Darwin to ensure that this critical technology is developed in Harwell, bringing expertise, jobs and growth to Britain.”

This research will be based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire, and is co-funded through the UK Space Agency’s investment in the European Space Agency’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).

Other partners are Oxford and Glasgow universities, telecoms business O2 Telefonica, Spanish satellite operator Hispasat, and the Darwin Innovation Group Oxford.

Darwin is developing an ARTES ‘Partner Study’ programme with UK support (first phase £2m) to help define all the different elements needed to deliver the larger programme. The future of mobility is one of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges. UK Space Agency is working closely with Darwin and O2 to support this ambition in the UK.

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