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The Top 4 Things We Learned About 5G and Autonomous Vehicles

Adam Benjamin

Adam Benjamin

Digital Services Editor

2 min. read

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If you’ve been following any of the news out of CES 2019, you’ve probably heard about 5G and autonomous vehicles (“AVs,” aka self-driving cars). Both have been major topics at this year’s show, promising major changes to our daily lives in the not-too-distant future. Tuesday’s panel “5G and Self-Driving Vehicles: A Policy Roadmap” looked at the opportunities, challenges, and considerations for ushering in the next generation of connected tech.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the biggest points from the conversation.

These technologies are a lot closer than we realize

We’ve all seen videos of cars without human drivers, but there’s still a long way to go before self-driving cars are available in our cities… right? Wrong. They’re in use right now. As Tekedra Mawakana, Chief External Officer of Waymo, explained, the company has a pilot fleet in Phoenix, Arizona. Members of Waymo’s “early riders” program can use an app to call autonomous vehicles in a system that sounds very much like a self-driving ride-hailing service. While it’s only available to a small group of about 100 people, it’s happening now.

We can’t even imagine how much things will change

Melissa Tye, VP of Public Policy for Verizon, started the conversation by saying: “5G has put the U.S. on the cusp of what we’re calling the fourth industrial revolution. And that’s where everything that can be connected will be.” That kind of future is hard to imagine, though, no matter how much we might think we have a grasp on it. All of the panelists agreed: The best uses for 5G technology are probably things that we’re not even thinking about yet.

Companies are working closely with communities to understand needs

Tye said that, for all the talk of smart cities, the real effects of 5G and AVs will be felt on the community level — smaller groups, and not necessarily in urban areas. Mawakana built on this point, explaining that, in order for tech companies to get the public interested in this futuristic technology, they have to understand what those people want and need to use it for. With Waymo’s autonomous vehicles, for example, the company started by asking the community how they would want to use the vehicles, then introducing the AVs in a way that addressed those needs. As technology becomes increasingly ingrained in our infrastructure, consumers might see more and more tech companies reaching out to communities like this.

High-tech upgrades might spur some low-tech ones

John Godfrey, SVP of Public Policy for Samsung, said that there are some straightforward ways we can better prepare for 5G and AVs. “One thing that Congress could do this year is pass infrastructure investment.” After all, he argued, American roads need repaired, and if we’re going to go through the effort and investment of repairing them, why not upgrade them with fiber or wireless capabilities? While the concept of “smart roads” might seem a little excessive, the panelists were adamant that these kinds of investments are important for opening ourselves up to the opportunities that 5G might bring.

Check out all the latest CES 2019 news here.

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