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Project Darwin: 5G self driving cars could hit UK roads way sooner than you think

O2 has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to help develop a new wave of tech solutions for 5G-powered self-driving cars.

The collaboration was announced on Monday and will see O2, the ESA Oxford University, Glasgow University and Spanish satellite operator Hispasat team up to develop the next generation communications technologies and platforms needed to power self-driving cars. The work will be part of the ongoing Project Darwin, an ongoing four year initiative designed to speed up self driving car development.

Director of Growth, UK Space Agency, Catherine Mealing-Jones, said the research will specifically focus on creating ways to handle the vast amounts of data generated by and needed to run self driving cars.

“Autonomous vehicles need robust, high-speed mobile data connections to operate effectively. Building the technology to link them to telecoms satellites will allow you to take your car wherever you want to go, and not just to areas with a strong mobile signal,” she said.

“The future of mobility is one of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges, and this project will help ensure this critical technology is developed in Harwell, bringing expertise, jobs and growth to the UK.”

Related: What is 5G?

The project will be based in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire and start testing from July. It will initially attempt to develop connected vehicle and Vehicle-SIM and AI neural network solutions for autonomous vehicles before working on full-fat “proof of concepts” in 2020.

O2 COO Derek McManus listed the project as a key way the UK’s newly launched 5G network can help develop new technologies.

“Our approach to this project is part of our wider strategy to collaborate with British businesses, partners and start-ups to unlock the possibilities of 5G for customers and wider UK economy,” he said.

Related: 5G phones

5G is next generation networking technology that launched in select parts of the UK in June. The tech aims to offer users gigabit-per-second data speeds that can download entire TV series in seconds and, apparently, power self driving cars.

O2 and the ESA are two of many companies working on self driving car tech. Nvidia unveiled a new supercomputer designed to help train the AI networks running self driving cars earlier in June.

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