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Will LoRa and LoRaWAN Communications be used in the Development of Autonomous Vehicle Technologies and Robotaxis?

by Angelos Lakrintis | Feb 09, 2022

In the beginning of February, autonomous driving daredevil and pioneer, Anthony Lewandowski, announced that is creating a new start-up company called Pollen Mobile in order to complement its other start-up called Pronto AI.

Pronto AI https://pronto.ai/ was founded back in 2018 with the aim to tackle and manage autonomous haulage in mining. The system is retrofitted on a mining haulage and is capable of fully autonomous operations. Pronto AI’s platform is called A2B. A2B uses cameras as the primary (and radar as secondary) sensors, so it can operate safely even in low bandwidth of limited GPS settings.  

Unlike other autonomy systems, intermittent networks and GPS do not compromise safety. Camera, radar, GPS and multiple neural networks work together to instantly detect and avoid people, vehicles, equipment, debris, berms, animals, edges and other threats. A2B is uniquely capable of identifying and responding to threats even in the total absence of both. A2B’s lean, robust, modular design makes it truly off-road capable. It drives in weather and road conditions where other autonomous systems, or even people, cannot. This is because A2B is an advanced software-based system. Eliminating the brittle hardware that competing systems rely on translates to far fewer points of failure and much less maintenance.

Because Pronto AI couldn’t find a reliable and cheap network solution for its platform, the founder of the company decided to create one.

Pollen Mobile https://www.pollenmobile.io/ is a peer-to-peer decentralized mobile network that is built on the blockchain and owned and operated by its users. The platform is based on LoRa (Long Range) and LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) technologies which includes WiFi, Bluetooth and built-in LTE GPS antennas run on small, embedded Linux devices. 

Pollen Mobile Network Architecture

Pollen Mobile Network Architecture

Source: Pollen Mobile

LoRa uses license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequency bands like EU433 (433.05-434.79 MHz) and EU863-870 (863–870/873 MHz) in Europe; AU915-928/AS923-1 (915–928 MHz) in Australia; US902-928 (902–928 MHz) in North America; IN865-867 (865–867 MHz) in India; AU915-928/AS923-1 and EU433 Southeast Asia; and 2.4GHz worldwide. LoRa enables long-range transmissions with low power consumption. The technology covers the physical layer, while other technologies and protocols such as LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) cover the upper layers. It can achieve data rates between 0.3 kbit/s and 27 kbit/s, depending upon the spreading factor.

LoRa devices have geolocation capabilities used for trilateration positions of devices via timestamps from gateways.

This is by no means a new or revolutionary model. A lot of hobbyists are using LoRa communication technologies for ham radios and other basic communications.

A more widespread company who is promoting this type of network is called Helium: https://www.helium.com/

The model of a public database/ ledger of 'crowdsourced' network nodes is an interesting one. In the US the new 5G operator Dish is even using Helium for some of their network resource management (could even be for people putting up a Dish small cell at their house).

Biggest challenge Strategy Analytics sees is that these all depend on people putting up LoRa base stations where they want them - so you one will not get a full nationwide coverage. One of those network systems would cost from $450 - $5500. Not a platform that every household would opt to have.

Thus, it's more of a public Wi-Fi hotspot model (which honestly is pretty successful) that is great if you know you have coverage where you need it - so better for low-mobility or fixed applications.

This means that this type of technology would benefit mostly fixed IoT applications rather than scaling an autonomous driving fleet in busy city streets.

In the UK, a company like Oxbotica could benefit from this network. Oxbotica promotes its Universal Autonomy software platform that enables machines to robustly navigate, understand and act in any environment, without dependence on external infrastructure including GPS or third party maps. Other applications apart from mining could be agriculture, logistics, industrial automation, security etc.

Notably, a company called Aurora Innovation is focused on Pronto AI’s direction, commercialization of autonomous vehicles but in the trucking sector (short term) and robotaxi deployment (long term), however, Aurora’s technology is slightly different since it’s relying on the use of private 5G or LTE mobile connections. 

On the other hand, companies like AutoX, Cruise, Waymo, Tesla and Argo AI, who focuses on the creation of Robotaxi platforms, will not benefit from this type of technology since the range is limited, geofenced, as an option for defined locations such as mines or work sites.

Although the systems are decentralized and based on blockchain technologies and anyone could earn tokens, I highly doubt those network models will make the cut for full autonomous fleet management and communications like V2V, V2X, C-V2X etc.

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