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New Zealand’s first 5G-connected driverless car tested

New Zealand: New Zealand’s first 5G-connected driverless car is being tested on Auckland streets, as a result of a collaboration between Spark New Zealand and Ohmio Automotion.

The test is being carried out in a controlled area at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct this morning, using Spark’s pre-commercial 5G network available as part of its 5G Innovation Lab.

Spark launched its Innovation Lab in November 2018 to showcase 5G technology to New Zealand businesses. Now, Spark’s network team will begin working closely with Kiwi businesses to test the technical capabilities of 5G and enhance products and experiences.

The 5G-connected driverless car was developed by Ohmio, a New Zealand company which has been trialling autonomous vehicles at Christchurch airport. Since these trials, the car has been upgraded with new technology to ensure it integrates with Spark’s 5G test network.

Dr Mahmood Hikmet, Ohmio’s Head of Research and Development says, “We believe this test with Spark is only the second of its type in the world. Today has demonstrated some of the exciting opportunities 5G will enable for our autonomous car technology.

“A 5G network can be up to 100x faster than 4G, which unlocks the true potential for autonomous driving, as messages need to be transmitted and decisions made in real-time. A significant drop in latency – or the reaction time when one device talks to another – will give cars human-like reflexes and opens up multiple possibilities for connected infrastructure and a smart city ecosystem.”

The 5G-connected car carries up to four people. Using a tablet, passengers are able to hail the car which moves down the street to collect you. Inside, a dashboard tells you what the car is monitoring in real time using *LiDAR technology to help make sense of the surrounding environment.

While the vehicle is capable of driving itself at up to 25 kmph, the trial will cap the vehicles’ top speed at 7 kmph during the pre-programmed test drive loop lasting approximately seven minutes. Ohmio plans to launch more driverless cars in more closed facilities across New Zealand, including airports, university campuses, retirement villages and hospitals.

Ohmio plans to gain on-road certification and look for opportunities to use the cars on public streets alongside regular vehicles. One example of this is a ‘First and Last Mile Solution’ to carry people short distances and provide a connection to or from transport hubs, reducing the need for park-and-rides.

Colin Brown, Spark’s Lead for Network Evolution says, “Our partnership with Ohmio demonstrates the potential of 5G, which goes far beyond the speed of mobile phones and wireless broadband connections.

“Many industries and businesses in New Zealand will have their own ideas on what their 5G enabled transformative technology could be. We want to encourage businesses to begin thinking about their own ‘driverless car’ technology, and how they can prepare for the future of 5G.

Brown, who recently attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, says the speed at which 5G is being rolled out globally was on show at the event. “5G was a major feature at Mobile World Congress – having launched in a number of markets with businesses across multiple industries, from gaming to healthcare, already taking advantage to launch new products and services for customers.” 

Spark’s preparation and testing for the 5G network started in March last year with a 5G mobile speed test in Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, Spark achieved speeds of up to 18Gbp/s – which is around 100x faster than many typical New Zealand wireless device users currently experience.

Spark is on the countdown to 1 July 2020 – by which time it aims to have New Zealand’s first 5G network live on the Auckland Harbour for Emirates Team New Zealand to use as part of its preparation to defend the America’s Cup. Brown says, “As our 5G Innovation Lab evolves, we are looking forward to working closely with more New Zealand businesses to test and explore the future of 5G together.

“Today is another step on the road to 5G for Spark and New Zealand businesses. Over the coming months we will continue rolling out more real world tests of 5G-connected technology with businesses.”