The role of edge computing in autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are one of the most hyped topics in car/truck manufacturing, while already being available for campus/ factory traffic. In both cases edge computing plays a vital role.

For campus or factory traffic, edge capabilities do not necessarily need to be on board of the vehicle, i.e. it can be in the data center of a factory or in a manufacturing or warehouse facility itself. For public space autonomous vehicles this is not a sound option. There have been some early-stage ideas by IT service providers, to place small datacenter-like boxes along the highways and larger roads, where vehicles could connect via mobile technologies and receive information in order to do without edge computing facilities in each autonomous vehicle. However, there are two obvious obstacles, rendering this option inappropriate:

  • Placing such boxes on every street is far too expensive – highways and main streets are a big investment, but each street in all industrial areas, residential areas and all small district roads are basically impossible investments.
  • If in a larger accident or any other disaster two or more of such boxes are destroyed, the connected vehicles may not be controlled anymore. The same is valid if connections are down due to environmental influencing factors.

The most important issue with the use case of autonomous vehicles in public space is the fact that, no matter what happens to the outside infrastructure, the vehicle must be able to arrive at the desired destination. There must be no stop in service if the satellite navigation breaks down, as with Galileo in July 2019, nor if any other external information source collapses. In other words, all external information is welcome and can improve the service, but the fundamental function of moving from location A to B must work regardless of the external world. This requires on-board infrastructure which is fault-tolerant and, by that, redundant.

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