Chinese Automaker Plans Satellite Network to Support Autonomous Vehicles

Geely’s constellation will provide connectivity to its next-gen autos.

One of the most important components in an autonomous vehicle is its communications technology—which allows it to access the data needed to navigate its route. Chinese automobile company Geely has developed a solution to maintain a reliable data feed for its products: making its own satellite constellation.

The giant automaker—which sold 2.18 million vehicles in 2019 and also owns Volvo and a stake in Daimler-Benz—is investing $326 million in a new satellite manufacturing plant in Taizhou, close to its existing assembly lines. The plant will manufacture 500 satellites a year by 2025—with its first launches scheduled for later this year—and will have the capability of producing different satellite models. It will feature modular satellite manufacturing lines, research and testing centers and a cloud computing facility. The facility will be the first private satellite factory in China.

The satellites themselves will occupy a low earth orbit and offer high-speed internet connectivity and cloud computing capabilities to the company’s autonomous vehicles—in addition to data processing, AI and infotainment services. Those vehicles, in turn, will feature enhanced connectivity functions to take advantage of the constellation.

By manufacturing its satellites in-house, Geely reduces its reliance on third-party suppliers to keep the data flow running smoothly.

The state of self-driving vehicle technology.

Autonomous vehicle technologies currently rely on high-orbit satellite GPS, which can only be accurate within several meters—not precise enough for the vehicles to function safely. Geespace’s low-orbit satellites will allow for higher accuracy—down to the centimeter—which is necessary for precision maneuvers such as lane changes and accident avoidance measures.

It will also make over-the-air updating of vehicle software much more viable. In the past, car companies would rely on owners bringing their cars into the dealership for such updates. But software vulnerabilities take on vastly increased significance for an autonomous vehicle—making over-the-air updating crucial for safe operation.

Autonomous vehicles will need a staggering access to data to function smoothly and safely—and having a network of satellites dedicated to feeding the vehicles the information they need in real-time will go a long way to increasing their reliability and market appeal. “As vehicles become more connected and integrated into the Internet of Things ecosystem, the demand for data has grown exponentially,” said the company.

A dedicated satellite constellation could be an ideal answer to meeting that demand.

Read more about developments in autonomous vehicle technology at Self Driving Delivery Vehicle First to Receive US DOT Approval.