CES 2019: The state of autonomous vehicles and 5G

Last time, I covered two of the key “trends” (specifically, displays and artificial intelligence) that caught my eye from afar at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This time, I’ll wrap up this two-part series with a few more subjects along with, as usual, no shortage of opinions. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” to quote Shakespeare.

Autonomous vehicles

My colleague Junko Yoshida had it spot-on at CES this year with her coverage, “Tech companies refocus on Level 2+ driver assistance.” No matter that “Level 2+” doesn’t actually mean anything from an SAE levels-of-autonomy standpoint, the point here is that (at least for now), vehicle manufacturers and their silicon, hardware, and software technology providers have toned down the drumbeats of near-term promises for Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy and are instead discussing more realistic targets. Some of this recalibration is likely the result of recent highly publicized setbacks such as those at Tesla and Uber. But as I’ve written before, full autonomy is not a necessary prerequisite for vehicle owners to gain tangible benefits from enhanced vehicle intelligence; the fundamental technology is highly valuable with respect to preventing accidents and the like even in its interim ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) state.

Most of the near-term autonomous vehicle deployments won’t be in traditional vehicles for the masses, anyway, or so I’ll say (and have also said in the past). Instead, they’ll be focused in areas where they can eliminate the cost of human labor; sorry, taxi drivers, that’s why Uber, Lyft, and the like are investing so heavily here. The same goes for autonomous trains, ships, buses, semi-trailer trucks, and shorter-distance delivery robots; look, too, at what John Deere is doing with self-driving farming equipment. But it’s not all work, mind you; BMW’s autonomous motorcycle looks pretty cool (especially for someone like me who doesn’t know how to pilot a bike), as does its non-autonomous but electrified counterpart from Harley-Davidson.

At CES 2019, Bosch displayed its IoT shuttle, a concept vehicle showcasing automation, connectivity, and EV technology. Photo: David Benjamin

And don’t forget about the wireless networks that will someday enable these autonomous vehicles to intercommunicate. I recently wrote about the two main contending technologies here; dedicated short range communications (DSRC) and cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X). Well, at CES 2019, Ford announced it was backing C-V2X in partnership with Qualcomm, intending to deploy the technology in its vehicles beginning in 2022. For another perspective on the topic from EDN Editor-in-Chief Brian Santo, see “5G and autonomous vehicles might not go hand-in-hand.”

Wireless communications

Speaking of wireless networks, how’s 5G coming along? Slowly, to put it succinctly, though you might not suspect this from the abundance of hype in evidence at the show from Huawei, Intel, Qualcomm, and others (just wait for Mobile World Congress!). In the U.S., Verizon has done a limited rollout of what it’s calling “5G Home” in four cities, but the qualifiers are critical:

  • Non-standards-compliant, and
  • Fixed-location (i.e. intended for broadband Internet service to a residence or business), not mobile
Likely due at least in part to the non-standards-compliant aspect (I’m guessing its hardware partners are now focusing their ongoing development energy on standards-based products), the company has subsequently admitted that it won’t be expanding its “5G Home” footprint any time soon. D-Link showed off a (presumably standards-compliant) 5G router at the show, albeit with nebulous availability and nonexistent pricing.

And then there’s AT&T, who also doesn’t have much mobile network coverage to tout at the moment, although you might not suspect this from a look at your phone. To the widespread dismay of pretty much everyone but the company’s CEO, AT&T is now claiming that phones supporting advanced flavors of LTE (i.e., 4G) are actually on “5G” networks. Then again, we probably shouldn’t be surprised … the company had done the exact same thing earlier this decade when phones on its network started reporting that the “+” variant of HSPA (i.e., 3G) was actually “4G.”

What about Wi-Fi? Back in October of last year, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to stop referring to various technology flavors by cryptic-to-the-consumer-masses names such as “802.11ac”; instead using generation number-based naming. Next up is Wi-Fi 6 (i.e. 802.11ax), designed to “improve overall spectral efficiency, especially in dense deployment scenarios”; ASUS was showing off a prototype router around a year ago, and unsurprisingly other companies like NETGEAR and TP-Link followed suit at CES (note that production availability isn’t slated until at least 2H 2019).

Plenty more for the future

A number of other interesting (at least to me) topics piqued my interest in the abundance of coverage coming out of CES 2019: robotics, the smart home (Apple’s HomeKit in particular), AR and VR, wearables, and ATSC 3.0, for example. I’ll queue up planned coverage of these and other subjects in posts to come. For now, I’m curious to see your comments!

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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