Vernetzte Straße für autonomes Fahren
Autonomous driving with or without 5G?

The EU Parliament is currently discussing whether WLAN or 5G should be defined as the standard technology for autonomous driving. Whichever technology is ultimately chosen, one thing is certain: a secure connection is essential in order to connect vehicles with one another and thus enable autonomous driving. But other solutions for functional security also have potential.

On-board sensor technology the basis up to now
Assistance systems and automated driving functions are based on embedded systems in the vehicle and on-board sensor technology for detecting obstacles in parking spaces, for example. Even in highly-automated driving with Level 3/conditional automation, the functions are still on board and work largely without active communication with the outside world.

Functional safety in autonomous driving
As the level of automation increases (Level 4 and higher / high and full automation and autonomous driving), implementing functions becomes many times more complex. In the urban environment in particular, such as when safely crossing a multi-lane intersection, this produces extremely difficult challenges that cannot currently be met with the required level of safety.

There are essentially two competing solutions for implementing this kind of highly complex and highly critical application case at the required level of functional safety:

1. Autonomy through autarky:
Just as in the past, all functions are left in the vehicle, which is equipped with sophisticated sensor technology and high computing capacity for processing the sensor data.

2. Autonomy through functionally safe connection:
Key autonomy functions are removed from the vehicle and outsourced to the infrastructure and IT backend (sensor technology and processing), or at least implemented there redundantly in order to increase functional safety.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, in terms of both technology and cost scenarios. The use cases also undoubtedly make a difference. For example, the requirements differ widely between premium vehicles on the one hand and people mover concepts, which fill the gap between individual and public transport and are predominantly intended for urban traffic, on the other. Different solutions are needed.

5G is the basis for communication
The crucial technological requirement is the ability to connect with and within the overall infrastructure. What is needed is highly secure, absolutely reliable data connections at a high bandwidth. Only if this is guaranteed can functionally safe applications in an IT backend, rather than in an embedded system in the vehicle, be seriously considered.

The EU Parliament’s decision regarding the choice of 5G or WiFi as the technology will lay a crucial foundation for automotive manufacturers here. In both options, it will be important to ensure that the connections enjoy a high level of data security. Safety and security must come together if safe autonomous driving is to become a reality.