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Dan Feinberg speaks with Kathy Grise, IEEE Future Directions senior program director, at the AWE conference recently in San Jose, California. In this excerpt, Dan and Kathy discuss the impending impact of 5G technology and related immersive technologies, including autonomous driving, XR, AR, and VR.
Dan Feinberg: Hi, Kathy. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me during this busy show. Today, I want to talk about a few topics, including the wide-ranging impact of 5G and the autonomous driving trend that’s coming.
Kathy Grise: Thanks, Dan. I think these are important topics because I had that “aha” moment recently regarding UPS trucks, which can be self-driving. All they’ll need is just a driver sitting there, hands-off, and an engineer on the side. I’m trying to figure out how that brings cost savings. But more importantly, the whole premise behind that is due to regulations. The driver can only drive so many hours similar to a pilot on an airplane who can only fly so many hours. However, the reality is that they still have to watch. My Tesla recently demonstrated that it doesn’t know about potholes. I’m in Vermont, and we’re known for growing humongous potholes every winter, but it’s not just Tesla. I notice Honda, Nissan, Ford, etc. are all introducing autonomous driving; they’re just not advertising it yet.
Feinberg: Yes, there are still issues. At an NVIDIA conference, they were projecting that by 2020, there would be autonomous cars on the road; now, they seem to be backing off on that. We were joking about who would be the first state to say that autonomous cars are good and human drivers are bad and restrict humans from on the freeways. It would have to be California. Where else, right? (laughs)
Grise: I have the ideal place out in the desert on a flat highway.
Feinberg: Sure. But the issue is that autonomous vehicles and their programmers can’t predict what other humans are going to do, and that’s one of the issues.
Grise: Right. It’s a combination of factors. Reliability is critical, but there are so many other factors that are equally important; it takes a balance of all of them.
Feinberg: One thing you mentioned was potholes; of course, there are other hazards and new issues on most highways as well. One of the ways to do it is you must have a huge, fast network for data sharing. When there is a new hazard, the other vehicles being driven autonomously have to know about it. We can’t do that yet.
Feinberg: Specifically, when a pothole shows up on the road, every other autonomous car within a certain distance is going to have to know about that pothole in real time. With 4G, you couldn’t do that, but you can with 5G; it’s not just about making voice calls on your phone.
Grise: Oh, heck no; it’s an enabler for data transfer amongst other things.
Feinberg: Right. Phones with 5G for data transfer are still going to need 4G for voice; you will have both.
Grise: The infrastructure is not keeping up with today’s technology.
Feinberg: Not yet. In fact, because 5G is higher frequency, the issue to rollout is lower signal penetration and range; therefore, there’s a need for many more cell sites. It’s going to be very interesting. That’s why I think the whole 5G thing isn’t quite ready yet.
Grise: No. But history can repeat itself and go through cycles. We can learn from the past and make better decisions moving forward with the requirement of the infrastructure and 5G so that it could support instantaneous notification and recognition of potholes, for example. I use Waze, heavily. Again, it ties back to the human factor. Waze relies on crowdsourcing. To run these applications well, you need better connectivity as well as reliability.
Feinberg: And on the topic of XR (extended reality) is a combination of VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality). Suddenly, all of these companies are doing XR, and not just for gaming anymore.
Grise: It has become real.
Feinberg: To me, the applications that have true value are in service. If you need help or to repair something, you call up the tech service company, and they tell you to put on your virtual reality headset. The technician is going to see, “See where I’m pointing? Go to this on your screen, click there, etc.,” and you’re doing it together even though they’re thousands of miles away. This may even apply to medical applications, such as robotic surgery. The innovation is in the combination of VR and AR in conjunction with 5G; we couldn’t do it with 4G.
Grise: Another AR application is if you do the MRI, you can support surgeons. You can overlay the MRI data and have that surgeon see exactly where the issue is with that patient. It becomes less invasive, more reliable, and hopefully, results in a shorter time in surgery.
And in the area of power companies, for example, sending a service technician up the side of a mountain is very dangerous. Today, you can use drone technology to do some diagnostics. Then, they can see if wires are fraying or if arcing is going on, and the utility service teams can determine who and what equipment to send out there.
Feinberg: It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the last few years.
Grise: And how far we need to go yet.
Feinberg: Thank you so much for your time, Kathy.
Grise: Thank you, Dan.