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June 1, 2020

Autonomous Vehicles: A Brief Explainer .

Autonomous Vehicles: A Brief Explainer


Christina Janne

Powering Autonomous Vehicles

Cars are an integral part of daily life in America, from a quick trip to the store to epic cross-country road trips following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac. And those hours on the highway add up—Americans collectively spend 70 billion hours behind the wheel over the course of a typical year. With such a substantial portion of our day spent in our cars, the impact of new technologies like autonomous vehicles can’t be overstated. And when you fold 5G connectivity into the mix? That’s a winning combination.

But how exactly do autonomous vehicles work, and what are the technologies that connect them to other vehicles and the streets they navigate? Let’s take a look at some of the tech that powers autonomous vehicles.


Wireless connectivity helps cars send data such as location, speed, direction, and braking status over further distances than radar or cameras, and transmits signals even if there are obstacles in the way that would hinder radar or other technologies from connecting.


Lidar systems use lasers to measure distances between the vehicle and another object, building a map for autonomous vehicles by sending out millions of light pulses every second and measuring how long they take to come back. Lidar sends enough infrared lasers to get a general sense of the shape of surrounding objects and can sometimes detect the velocity of the objects it evaluates.


Cameras let autonomous cars see lane lines and interpret road signs. To capture the images that the car relies on, one vehicle will often have dozens of cameras monitoring the environment around it. Cameras have terrific resolution, and can see in finer detail than radar and lidar systems.


Radar systems use radio waves to detect objects and measure speeds. Radar technology has been used in cars for 20 years, and is the foundation for more advanced technology like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Radar can see for hundreds of yards and can determine the speed of objects it perceives, even in bad weather and other challenging conditions.

Unlocking the Full Potential of Autonomous Vehicles with 5G

Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) connectivity connects cars to each other, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications connect a car to anything that could affect the car and vice versa, preventing accidents and crashes. Both take advantage of wireless networks, to allow cars to communicate.

That’s where 5G comes in.  5G’s high bandwidth, low latency and increased ability to connect multiple devices in a dense area will allow us to make every vehicle autonomous, transforming transportation. It will allow us to transmit the massive amounts of data that flows through autonomous vehicle systems faster than humans can blink—keeping us safe and making our trips more efficient. 5G will help us reduce time spent driving and cut vehicle congestion by up to 40% thanks to the ability to create vehicle-to-vehicle “convoys” that calibrate the spacing and aerodynamics of a group of vehicles to increase road capacity and reduce emissions.

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