5G Cellular-Enabled Test Infrastructure for Autonomous Vehicles Launched at U.K.’s Millbrook

Millbrook’s high-speed “bowl” is a significant 5G development characterisic at the U.K. proving ground. (Millbrook)

Millbrook Proving Ground in the U.K. has officially launched the AutoAir consortium’s 5G cellular testing infrastructure for autonomous vehicle (AV) development. The new facility at Millbrook provides AV developers access to a low-latency, wide-area wireless infrastructure billed to work seamlessly across the entire sprawling test facility 50 miles (80 km) north of London.

The AutoAir project at Millbrook will make a major contribution to 5G development for autonomous vehicles. (Millbrook)

Millbrook said, “This capability is crucial for the validation and testing of SAE Level 3 to Level 5 autonomous vehicles, which require high-speed real-time connectivity to compare real-world outcomes with decision-making simulation.”

Developers will be able to simulate weak and strong cell signals and understand the impact of hills and other terrain—all within Millbrook’s grounds—while having access to all data generated during testing. The AutoAir consortium is led by Airspan Networks and enables AV developers to create virtual events using augmented and virtual reality for vehicles on track, to test in safety scenarios right up to edge cases.

The technology used at Millbrook is based on 4G and 5G small cells that operate on a “neutral host” basis. “AutoAir at Millbrook is one of the most ambitious 5G testbeds and trials sites in the world. The project has now completed the deployment of a hyper-dense small cell network that delivers ultra-high capacities which enables a range of new CAV use cases to be explored,” said Paul Senior, chief strategy officer at Airspan Networks.

The Millbrook mobile network facility comprises 77 small-cell base stations (using 2.3 GHz and 3.7 GHz spectrum) and 22 millimeter-wave access points (millimeter-wave is the spectrum from 30 GHz to 300 GHz) around Millbrook’s banked, high-speed road circuit. There are 59 masts, 38 for the small cell base stations and 11 for the millimeter-wave access points, plus 10 for the millimeter-wave mesh backhaul along a hill route. Some 19 km (11.8 miles) of fiber-optic cable is installed.

Cellular coverage at 160 mph

The site’s new communications systems provide up to 1 Gbps real-time connectivity; up to 256 km/h (160 mph) continuous coverage capability around the high-speed bowl; access using 4g long-term evaluation—the network capable of supporting 5G New Radio (NR) when commercial devices become available—and secure Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) with the assurance that data does not leave Millbrook’s environs.

The Millbrook facility offers access to open-source reference vehicles that can be programmed to emulate a range of vehicles for AV software development, and “soft targets” for real-world AV requirements. It also can provide a digital model of the facility’s test tracks with 1 mm surface accuracy for vehicle simulation, as well as a simulator suite for both physical and virtual development.

With cybersecurity a continuing concern for AVs, the 5G testbed can be used to simulate mobile-network disruption and connectivity to test software, vehicle and infrastructure resilience to interference. And an open-access network, with slicing to enable users to work on a single network infrastructure, facilitates testing involving various network disruption and connectivity situations.

Together with Airspan Networks, the AutoAir consortium includes McLaren Applied Technologies; Blu Wireless Technology; The 5G Innovation Center, University of Surrey; Dense Air; Quortus and Celestia Technologies Group.

Another proving grounds in Europe, the Swedish test facility AstaZero, now is accredited by Euro NCAP to perform tests of active safety systems and automated driving. It is owned by Research Institutes of Sweden, (RISE) and Chalmers University of Technology.