South Korea's SK Telecom to develop a 5G-based map for self-driving cars

Key Points
  • SK Telecom will produce a high definition map with "centimeter-level accuracy".
  • The platform will provide information relating to road conditions, lanes, road slopes and speed limits.
Sungjin Kim | Moment | Getty Images

South Korean telecoms giant SK Telecom has signed an agreement with the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) to develop 5G-based self-driving infrastructure.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will also focus on the development of information and communications technology start-ups in the IFEZ, a specially-designated economic zone located in the city of Incheon in the northwest of the country. The IFEZ was set up in 2003 and is made up of the areas of Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna.

5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks. While it promises cell phone users incredibly fast browsing experiences, it will also benefit the autonomous vehicle sector through its ability to process reams of information and data simultaneously and quickly.

In a statement Monday, SK Telecom said it would produce a high definition map covering the whole IFEZ area. It added that the map would have "centimeter-level accuracy" and provide information relating to road conditions, lanes, road slopes and speed limits.

The hope is that the map will help the IFEZ area become ready for Level 4 autonomous vehicles, as defined by SAE International. A global association of over 127,000 engineers, SAE International has defined five "levels" of driving automation. An example of Level 4 automation could be a driverless taxi, while at Level 5 a vehicle's automated features can drive it under all conditions.

The map will be built using a 5G-based platform that will automatically update when it gets road observation data from advanced driver assistance systems over the 5G network.

Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, are becoming increasingly important tools in modern vehicles. They use a range of technologies, including sensors and cameras, to detect potential hazards, and can undertake action – be it automatically or by warning a driver – to prevent accidents from happening.

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In order to detect any changes on the road, SK Telecom said it planned to install both ADAS and 5G communication technologies to public transport vehicles and government cars in the IFEZ.

"The core of 5G lies in its power to transform all industries to deliver unprecedented value to people's daily lives," Park Jin-hyo, SK Telecom's chief technology officer, said Monday.

"We will work closely with the IFEZ Authority to accelerate IFEZ's transition to a smart city powered by SK Telecom's 5G network and mobility technologies," he added.

While there is a great deal of excitement in relation to self-driving cars, the CEO of Arm Holdings told CNBC earlier this year that it would be "a while" before they become mainstream.

"It is a phenomenally hard problem to anticipate what a car could do under absolutely any set of circumstances," Simon Segars, who was speaking to CNBC's Karen Tso, said.

"I think you're going to start to see early services, in quite a constrained way, quite soon over the next couple of years," he added, explaining that there was "some way to come" before the technology was "completely mainstream."

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