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Chinese auto giant Geely plans a private satellite network to support autonomous vehicles


What does a large automaker that’s morphing into a mobile-technology company and heavily investing in autonomous vehicles need to add to its ecosystem? Probably connectivity, and that’s likely why Chinese car giant Geely says it will be building its own satellite data network.

A need for “highly accurate, autonomous driving solutions,” is part of what’s driving the strategy, the company says in a press release. Geely – the largest car maker in China and whose assets include Volvo and a stake in Lotus – has begun building a test facility in Taizhou City where it will develop satellite models, the company says.

“The creation of a truly smart, three-dimensional mobility ecosystem,” as the company describes its Geespace project, will include precise navigation, cloud computing and high-speed Internet functions. Geely is investing $326 million in the project according to Reuters, citing a statement from the company.

Over-the-air updating of vehicle software is a principal reason data networks will become prevalent in automobile technology. Historically, car companies haven’t worried much about the speedy updating of end-user’s systems, in part because they’ve liked getting customers back into the dealership to upsell service options and pitch new cars. A leisurely software patch while the customer hangs around drinking warm coffee and watching daytime soaps suits that purpose. However, autonomous cars are a different story: The safety of self-driving cars can’t tolerate software vulnerabilities.

Control over vehicle positioning also comes into play. Knowing where the car is and where obstacles are is more important than in traditional vehicles. Lane-change and accident avoidance, for example, are autonomous-vehicle features that require high levels of accuracy.

“The Geespace low-orbit satellite network will offer much higher centimeter-accurate precision,” Geely says, comparing its proposed constellation with the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System.

Data processing, artificial intelligence and infotainment onboard the vehicles all need fat networks, too. Former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said at a talk I attended a few years ago that he thought cars would soon create 4,000 GB of data per hour of driving because of the number of sensors, such as cameras, that they’ll be equipped with.

The Geely private satellite network is the first of its kind for an industrial use and joins a trend in private wireless networking. Private, terrestrial 5G networks and private LTE networks allow companies to control their own data and uptime, rather than relying on service providers. Mercedes-Benz is reportedly working on a private 5G network for privacy and security.

“As vehicles become more connected and integrated into the Internet of Things ecosystem, the demand for data has grown exponentially,” Geely says.

Geely will begin launching the Geespace satellites by the end of 2020.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.


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