CANGO Auto View: What’s Next for 5G? An Accelerator for the Internet of Vehicles!
2020 is regarded as the “opening year” for China’s 5G providers. Since the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued 5G commercial licenses to the four major providers, application of 5G in the Internet of Vehicles (IoV) has changed from a “beautiful vision” to something tangible.
As one of the milestones on the development path of smart vehicles, 5G application distinguishes itself with its high speed, low latency and high reliability, and it is the direction for the new-generation information technology and important foundation for digital economy. At present, with the promotion of 5G technology, the development of IoV applications focuses on enhancing vehicle driving safety and travel efficiency and enriching application products.
It can be said that without 5G, IoV will not be an Internet of Vehicles in any real sense. As of now, IoV could very well be the first place where 5G explodes onto the scene.
IoV Part I: Vehicle + things represents the significant leap of autonomous driving
The current autonomous vehicles are not truly “self-driving,” and smart connectivity isn’t truly “smart.” A lot of issues are yet to be resolved by scientists, leading technology companies, governments and numerous other organizations. Of all of the issues, the core one is that autonomous driving still hasn’t completed a fundamental “leap.”
Based on public information, since 2018, mainstream OEMs have all been equipped with the ability to mass produce L2 autonomous driving solutions (i.e., partial autonomous driving meaning machine + human cooperative driving), which include traffic jam assistance, integrated cruise assistance, self parking and other functions. As for L3 autonomous driving solutions, some stakeholders predicted previously that they will be commercialized within the next several years and transform into the real IoV.
To be specific, technology needs to see a quantum leap in order for autonomous driving to progress from L2 to L3 and eventually to L5 (i.e., full autonomous driving with humans only riding as passengers). For vehicles capable of L3 and higher-level autonomous driving, once a problem occurs, the responsible body should be the entire system, but the human driver is the responsible body at L2. “When the responsible body transfers from the person to the system, it is obviously a step up.”
In terms of development phases, Roland Berger global partner Zheng Yun believes that 2021 will see the beginning of the gradual development of smart vehicles, and hopefully, autonomous driving on highways, autonomous driving in the form of collaborative convoys, group-based vehicle network communication and a social network of vehicles. Such a judgment is consistent with aforementioned industry insiders’ opinion, that is, IoV is entering the critical phase of transitioning from quantitative to qualitative change.
Previously, main reports and analyses circulating the market focused on how autonomous vehicles should collect more information and most of the discussions were around sensors and related methodology. One industry insider studied Tesla’s sensors and claimed that through the comprehensive use of camera, ultrasound and millimeter wave radar, Tesla has completed the adaption to structured roads with relatively predictable traffic participants and simple road conditions, in other words, areas where highways are separate from humans and vehicles. This same insider also said, “To be able to combine millimeter waves and images, it shows how strong Tesla’s algorithm is.”
Technology companies, headed by Tesla, are already as outstanding as can be expected. Still, in the existing industrial environment, they haven’t been able to realize full autonomous driving. From a technical point of view, the main problem they face is this: autonomous-driving schemes mainly rely on vision, meaning a three-dimensional reconstruction of two-dimensional information, yet the conversion of two-dimensional to three-dimensional information will inevitably lead to information loss, which inevitably leads to judgment errors, resulting, in turn, in accidents. It follows naturally then that a straightforward solution to this problem is to increase the number and variety of sensors on one single vehicle and collect more information at higher transmission rates, to minimize errors and misjudgments.
From another angle, many research institutions believe that IoV is the biggest proposition for transportation and mobility reform in the future, as its essence is the comprehensive co-evolution of road, network, vehicle and cloud. A more efficient, safer and smarter transportation structure can be achieved through the collaboration of vehicles and other objects, and the advent of 5G is driving this protracted “war of attrition” infinitely closer to the tipping point. It is conceivable for 5G to eventually become the link among things related to IoV.
Industry research shows that the four key elements of IoV will evolve in the following directions:
1. Road. Smart roads have three major characteristics. They can sense, so that they can form a network of traffic infrastructure capable of comprehensive perception. They can think, so that they can make smart decisions after data collection and analysis. And they can speak, so that they can transform from passive carrying to active perception and collaborate more closely with vehicles.
2. Vehicle. The basic feature of smart vehicles is that they are able to “connect” and to exchange information with roads and the cloud. At the same time, they must possess a considerable degree of “intelligence” so that they can process and analyze important information received.
3. Network. The evolution direction for the communication network is supporting and ensuring real-time and all-around exchange of information among the vehicle, the road and the cloud.
4. Cloud. A cloud-based urban traffic brain is needed to dispatch, control and organize open and complex transportation systems.
When 4G and previous networks are definitely incapable of ensuring transmission efficiency and accuracy, 5G is the ideal choice for low latency and high reliability. At present, the latency of 5G is less than 10ms, which enables connected vehicles to make quick judgments and decisions based on transmitted data, thus greatly enhancing vehicles’ safety. As of September 2020, China has built 690,000 5G base stations, extending 5G coverage to nearly all prefecture-level cities.
Experts believe that besides its ability to increase download speed and minimize connection latency, 5G can be seen as a system with rich capabilities, mainly in three areas, namely, enhancing wireless broadband, supporting services as key businesses, and supporting heavy-traffic IoT (including IoV). Different from 4G with its main focus on communication among people, 5G has formed an end-to-end ecosystem. It enhances wireless bandwidth, with a peak rate of up to 20Gb/s, supports lower latency (≤10ms), and offers higher reliability (>99.99%) and greater bandwidth (with 1 million terminals connected per km2). All of these data imply a higher degree of safety, since millisecond-level delays could mean a world of difference in accident discovery and handling.
5G will provide a feasible complete environment for different combinations of vehicle + road, vehicle + vehicle and vehicle + infrastructure. The road environment in China is highly complex, and vehicle-based sensing systems such as radar, camera and lidar are limited by factors such as line of sight and environment. To improve safety, autonomous driving will need to compensate for the sensing ability missing in on-board sensors and detect real-time road conditions that on-board sensing equipment cannot detect. With the 5G infrastructure develops, traffic lights, base stations and pedestrians will all become a part of IoV, the infrastructure and vehicles of an entire city will be woven into one single digital map, and central systems will receive exponentially increased amounts of data to help them make correct decisions and judgments for road safety.
IoV Part II: IoV cloud computing without 5G is “fake and defective.”
In 2020, the State Council issued Development Strategies for Smart Vehicles and clearly stated that it must be ensured that 5G can provide leading infrastructure guarantees in the development of IoV. According to the document, 2025 should see the general formation of a system for the technological innovation, industrial ecology, infrastructure, regulations and standards, product supervision, and network security for China’s standard smart vehicles. And by the same year, mass production of smart vehicles capable of conditional autonomous driving should have been achieved, smart vehicles capable of high-level autonomous driving should have been commercialized under specific circumstances, progress should have been achieved in the building of smart transportation systems and other infrastructural facilities related to smart cities, wireless communication networks for vehicles (such as LTE-V2X) should have realized regional coverage, certain cities and highways should have started to use new-generation wireless communication networks for vehicles (such as 5G-V2X), and the high-precision time- and space-based service network should have reached full coverage.
Industry insiders say that 5G is of great significance to the cloud computing platforms of IoV, because cloud computing under the IoV system is pointless unless it’s performed with the network with low latency. Leveraging 5G technology with its low latency, high reliability and speed, and large capacity, technology companies can help vehicles communicate with one another and determine location, speed, driving direction and driving intention, and more important, utilize roadside facilities to help vehicles sense the environment. For example, using its own camera, a vehicle will not necessarily make the correct judgments about traffic lights, running red lights as a result. By applying IoV technology, however, traffic lights can send light signals as wireless signals to vehicles nearby so as to ensure that autonomous vehicles correctly read the traffic lights.
Moreover, the traffic lights can also broadcast the time for the next light change and even the light status of adjacent intersections for the following period of time. Based on this information, autonomous vehicles can optimize driving speed and route and pick the route with the least red light time and allowing the fastest speed, thus optimizing traffic and conserving energy.
5G technology’s market share has been gradually expanding since its commercial application. Driven by promotion by government departments on the local level, IoV technology is gradually becoming reality. According to public sources, in October 2020, the Bureaus of Industry and Information Technology in Changsha, Zhuzhou, Xiangtan and Yueyang jointly signed Proposition on Collaborating on Large-Scale City-Level Road Tests, Demo and Use of Intelligent Connected Vehicles, which represents one step further in building a city-level collaborative model for the use, application and development of intelligent connected vehicles and in forming a collaborative system among cities for developing the intelligent connected vehicle industry and applications.
Furthermore, according to Ling Qinjie, Deputy Director of Xiangjiang New District Management Committee in Hunan, for the next three years, Changsha City is committed to smart transformation of urban roads within development zones, among other areas, and of key vehicles such as buses, street-cleaning vehicles and construction vehicles. It hopes that 30% of vehicles on the road will be intelligent and connected, more than 80% of road intersections will be transformed into connected ones, 5G network coverage will be 100%, and IoV services will reach 60% of its residents.
Statistics show that besides these cities, other cities including Wuxi, Suzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing and Guizhou have all launched IoV-led smart city and smart mobility projects.
According to publicized information, in 2021, Toyota will build a “smart city” centered on connected vehicles and autonomous electric vehicles (EV), with all products and services connected through the internet. Located at the foot of Mount Fuji, this city of the future has been named “WovenCity.” It is foreseeable, then, that the era of IoV based on 5G technology is fast approaching.
IoV Part III: Struggle for power between software and hardware in the third consumption scene.
5G is a driving force for IoV, and its most direct manifestation and one with obvious effect in the short run is linking “vehicles and humans.” As an important consumer space, smart vehicles have long been eyed by major investment institutions and have been christened the third consumption space. Based on analyses by industry insiders, industry giants are all competing in IoV. Many powerhouses have already entered the fray, including traditional carmakers and internet and IT behemoths; and while the former have superior sales channels, the latter boasts of superior technology.
The outlook might be good, but the reality isn’t rosy. Over the past decade, the IoV has developed in tandem with mobile phones. Due to the rapid development of 4G, wireless internet has taken up a lion’s share of people’s functional time, and on one small phone, people are able to complete all activities including socializing, consumption, study, gaming, music and news.
At present, the common practice of carmakers is to project wireless phone applications to vehicles, resigned as they are to the times. The smartphone holder has almost wiped out all imagination for vehicles.
Su Tan, GM of Baidu’s IoV Division, gave his own views on the form and role of IoV in the future, “We can all feel that we are closer and closer to the fully intelligent car. Within the next several years, we will see very different cars from what we have today. They will drive by themselves and engage people in richer interactions. Once you get into the car, you will feel that it is not just a mobility tool. It is instead an extension of your home, office and entertainment space, and truly a third living space for you besides your home and workplace.”
There’s no shortage of far-sighted people in the industry, and BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) have long been deeply engaged in IoV without anyone noticing. Baidu used AI as an entry point to directly target autonomous driving, and based on Baidu Map, Baidu Voice, Baidu Cloud and other basic structures and data collection capabilities, its Apollo autonomous vehicle technology platform offers two solutions, which are Xiaodu on-board OS and Apollo smart vehicle cloud. Xiaodu on-board OS, in particular, is the core service product in IoV, as Xiaodu Assistant interacts through voice, vision, touch and other interactive modes, and provides the “smartest” maps for vehicles in real-world navigation.
As for autonomous driving, Baidu has launched Robotaxi, which supports L4 autonomous driving, Baidu Apolong, which is a driverless electric vehicle for commercial use, Valet Parking, which is a self parking solution freeing drivers of the parking hassle, and smart mobility solutions based on the perception and smart analysis of human, vehicle and road data.
Alibaba and SAIC Motor jointly invested in and built the ebanma network, the core product of which is the banma smart mobility on-board system powered by AliOS. The idea is that through this smart system, services will look for users based on scenarios. For example, China National Petroleum Corporation has been enlisted to provide refueling services. And ele.me is another partner offering on-board smart ordering and delivery to destination. The vehicle’s arrival time can be analyzed through AI technology, and food delivery can be smartly timed so that the vehicle and the food arrive simultaneously at the destination.
Tencent has introduced TAI (Tencent Auto Intelligence system), committed as it is to bringing into vehicles Tencent’s content resources, social applications and information service ecology in wireless internet. Since then, Tencent has incubated TINNOVE, hoping to become the provider of complete Tencent ecological resources and a platform offering system-level IoV solutions, and to create IoV application innovation platforms backed by the Tencent ecosystem.
BAT’s competition in IoV can almost be seen as a battle of the heavyweights in wireless internet. The three giants have all targeted the on-board system, seeing it as a must-have. And they all hope that their products will become the iOS or the Android of the auto industry so that they can snap up the largest market after the wireless internet market.
The tremendous power generated by the combination of IoV and 5G and the accompanying daunting challenges have rendered all outrageous expectations ordinary. A.T.Kearney pointed out that if intelligent connected vehicles can be connected to the enormous commercial ecosystem, vehicles will become a social networking node, and the key distinction is that humans in the vehicles will also be included in the ecosystem, thus leading to the advent of C2X (Cabin to Everything) and new levels of commercial value.
In terms of smart hardware, public information shows that in April of this year, Xiaomi Group led the investment, with RMB 400 million, in the Series B financing of IoV company Pateo. Pateo stated that the two parties will engage in in-depth cooperation so as to “create a new IoV era.” Previously, DiDi had tried to develop hardware for calling rides. With the extensive application of 5G technology, from smart car keys to smart wireless vehicle phones, more and more auto technology platforms have initiated in-depth R&D of smart hardware.
In terms of contents, NIO founder Li Bin once invested, as an individual investor, RMB 200 million in the vehicle on-board audio and entertainment platform Kaola FM. At that time, Li Bin believed that IoV would explode onto the scene around 2020 and that on-board audio system was the key IoV entry point. Kaola FM focuses on distributing entertainment contents inside the vehicle and aligning same-category content providers towards one single portal. For example, if you want to listen to songs, you won’t need to open a certain app before choosing a certain song. You will just need to issue a command for that song. Li Bin was of the opinion that reducing the levels of instruction was key to great experience inside the vehicle.
Moreover, in April 2020, multiple science and technology media outlets reported that ByteDance is building an IoV team and planning to launch its own vehicle information and entertainment system and solutions, so that its wireless network products including Douyin and Toutiao can be accessed in-vehicle. A person familiar with the situation said, “Most of the R&D members of this IoV team were transferred from the Smartisan team. There are about twenty of them. And those responsible for products and commercial affairs were recruited from outside the company.”
Given the development of 5G-driven network infrastructure, the popularization of software and hardware for auto electronics, and the accelerated development of electric vehicles, IoV has become an indisputable opportunity with an explosive potential for takeoff.