A ground-breaking, multi-million-pound pilot into the future of driverless vehicles has been unveiled in Sunderland.
The project will see pioneering 5G technology used in an operational automotive environment for the very first time in the UK and underline Sunderland’s position as one of the world’s leaders in the field.
North, the UK’s leading Internet of Things (IoT) service and solutions provider, will design, build and support the £4.9m operation, which will take place close to Vantec at the Nissan test track.
The pilot will be exploring the next innovation challenge of last-mile logistics – the automation of a 40-tonne heavy good vehicle.
This giant leap in technology will be tackled by North in partnership with the world’s leading manufacturer of 5G Solutions, Nokia.
The development establishes Wearside as a global leader in advanced logistics.
Importantly, the project has the potential to support the continued revolution in Connected Automated Logistics (CAL) and provides a 5G core for the region – positioning it for further investment and growth.
Funding for the CAL pilot was secured by a consortium which comprises The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), Sunderland City Council, Newcastle University, Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, StreetDrone and Perform Green.
The partners secured £2.4m from 5G Create, a £30 million open competition combining British creativity with innovative new uses for 5G, part of the UK government’s £200m 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT).
As the prime contractor, project manager and systems integrator, North will put the infrastructure in place to test and demonstrate the operational 5G-enabled autonomous delivery.
The pilot will allow the removal of the driver from the process and allow remote teleoperations to control the vehicles which can carry up to 40 tonnes of materials.
This project will showcase how network providers and industry can come together to design and develop automated logistic solutions which address industry challenges with innovation.
Artificial intelligence and advanced analytics will be used to review, stress test, and hone the application of the technology.
Throughout the test period, which will be around 12 to 18-months, the consortium will ensure the system is fit for purpose, protected from threats such as security breaches and will create a blueprint for similar projects.
Sunderland was named as UK Smart City of the Year for 2020, recognising digital innovation and transformation.
Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, said: “The combination of our renowned industrial ingenuity with new 5G technology positions Sunderland extremely competitively in the global marketplace.
“And the collective expertise across the 5G CAL consortium is primed to make great progress in this field.
“Improving competitiveness to attract inward investment and boost exports are key drivers in our regionally focused investment to automate logistics for manufacturing.
“Accelerating and supporting economic growth through the creation of this will encourage further private and public sector investment, representing a major opportunity for us here in Sunderland and the wider North East region.
Glen Williams, chief executive for North said: “This is a significant milestone for 5G standalone technology in the UK – we know that the potential of 5G is tremendous.”
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Ensuring we put the power of 5G to good use in our economy is front and centre of our efforts to build back better.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the project in Sunderland can use 5G to boost industrial productivity through the use of driverless vehicles.”
And Richard Barrington executive consultant at Perform Green and 5G Work stream lead added: “The 5G CAL Partnership is building what is probably the most advanced 5G network in the UK in terms of its performance and advanced 5G capabilities.”
5G Standalone private wireless networking will be provided using Nokia Digital Automation Cloud, a digitization service platform that features high-performance private wireless and edge computing.
Compact and easy-to-deploy it comprises network equipment, a cloud-based operation monitoring system and industrial connectors that ease standard and industry-specific protocol connectivity.