Verizon brings 5G to University of Michigan auto test facility

mCity
An aerial view of the Mcity test facility, which sits on a 32-acre site and features about 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure. (University of Michigan)

Verizon is showing off some of the snazzier use cases that 5G promises to bring to fruition, working with Mcity at the University of Michigan to figure out how low latency and other aspects of 5G will enable cars to sense other vehicles and basically make for safer driving.

Verizon on Tuesday announced that its 5G Ultra Wideband network is now live at the Mcity test facility, where they’re using various 5G solutions designed to improve pedestrian and auto safety. That includes 5G-connected cameras installed at intersections inside the Mcity test track to help identify traffic and pedestrian patterns to prevent collisions.

Signal controllers were installed at intersections within Mcity that provide signal phase and timing data to the 5G network. That way, they can help drivers “see” things before the human eye can register and thereby prevent collisions by changing the traffic signals when there’s a safety risk.

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Verizon said this is all made possible through several key components of 5G service—high bandwidth, low latency and the ability to connect hundreds of devices in a relatively small area. If each vehicle passing through an intersection is able to relay and receive information from other vehicles and streetlight cameras, that information can be used to notify cars when lights turn red or vehicles ahead come to a sudden stop.  

One of the things 5G is expected to support is the backbone for autonomous vehicles, helping them communicate better with other cars, traffic lights, pedestrians and emergency vehicles to avoid accidents.

It’s unclear when 5G-enabled cars will start showing up. Currently, stakeholders are pursuing two different technologies, Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) and Cellular-V2X (C-V2X).

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With Mcity, all the work in this case is based on C-V2X technology, according to Christina Moon Ashraf, external communications manager at Verizon. The track, plus the greater Ann Arbor community, which is already instrumented with the latest in C-V2X, is the country's foremost test bed for this technology, she added.

Verizon is running on standard production 5G NR. Everything else in terms of MEC, cameras, vehicle-to-vehicle messaging, etc., is in a state of evolution, which gets tested there in order to drive the standards. “Everything we do is based on current standards while we push the envelope to provide inputs to the standards bodies for evolution of those standards,” she said.   

Mcity ‘leadership circle’

Verizon said it's part of Mcity’s “leadership circle” of 11 companies, including General Motors, State Farm and LG, which are working to help fuel research and development in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Verizon has been part of the Mcity public-private partnership since July 21, 2015, when the University of Michigan opened the Mcity test facility to focus specifically on intelligent transportation and autonomous vehicles.

“Testing new technologies in a safe, controlled environment is essential before deploying automated vehicles on public streets and highways,” said Greg McGuire, associate director at Mcity, in a statement. “Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband can have a profound impact on smart vehicle technology. By giving the companies who are testing here access to Verizon’s 5G network, we’re hoping they can improve on their existing technology and potentially create applications that don’t even exist yet to make our roads and intersections safer.”

The Mcity test facility sits on a 32-acre site on the university's North Campus Research Complex, with more than 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure. The full-scale outdoor laboratory simulates a range of complexities vehicles encounter in urban and suburban environments.

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