Scary or not scary? Self-driving automated cars are the future … but right now I’d prefer to drive (hand-on)!
When it’s not busy making billion-dollar acquisitions to expand its robotics line-up, Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank is pursuing its other hobby: smart cars. Central to this endeavour is its partner, and fellow Japan native, Honda. Last year, the two announced plans to make cars emotive using cloud-based tech based on SoftBank’s Pepper robot (think Knight Rider‘s KITT). The fruits of that colloboration are beginning to emerge, in the guise of the auto-maker’s AI-assisted NeuV and Sports EV concepts. With the clock ticking down to Honda’s 2025 deadline for driverless cars, the duo are moving on to the next phase in their connected cars project, which is all about 5G.
Along with rivals NTT Docomo and KDDI, SoftBank is already testing 5G in Japan, with a view to kick-starting services by 2020. Before then, the carrier will test how well Honda’s cars can communicate with one another over its 5G network. Starting in 2018, SoftBank will install 5G base stations at the auto-maker’s Takasu Proving Ground closed test course in Hokkaido, Japan. The 6.8 km circular course serves as a stomping ground for Honda’s smart cars, and soon they’ll be talking over wireless networks while speeding around.
All the while, the two firms will be monitoring outcomes in order to develop the vehicles’ on-board tech and antennas. In addition, the experiment will allow SoftBank to test its 5G signal in a rural setting — thus far its trials have been mainly limited to urban locations.
The bigger picture may encompass SoftBank’s ridesharing investments, which include Singapore’s Grab (which also counts Honda as a backer), India’s Ola, China’s Didi, and now Uber. We know that Uber is also testing driverless cars in select states in the US. And, smarter cars operating over faster wireless networks will only improve these services and, in turn, line SoftBank’s bursting pockets.