The struggle is far from over, and China's role could be crucial
In the future, riding a horse might be more useful than driving a car without autopilot."That's from Elon Musk, the ever-swashbuckling CEO of tesla.
As automakers pour billions of dollars into self-driving car technology, even if they may shy away from musk's bombshell, few competitors seem to disagree with the billionaire's predictions.
Indeed, automakers hope that in the near future commuters will be able to ride in vehicles without a steering wheel.
Industry giants such as ford and Toyota, as well as silicon valley giants such as Google, are seeking the advantages of this unproven technology.Nearly $80 billion is said to have been invested in self-driving cars between 2014 and 2017.
But while the potential benefits of the technology are widely believed -- fewer road accidents, fewer congestion and fewer emissions -- there is no consensus on exactly how autonomous driving should work.
Indeed, a new battle has begun as players in different industries race to decide how autonomous vehicles should be connected.
The European parliament's decision to temporarily approve wi-fi networks over 5G mobile networks highlights a key debate over the future of transport.
Driving on busy city streets, changing lanes and avoiding unruly pedestrians all mean that future cars will need to be highly sensitive to their surroundings and know exactly how other cars will behave around them.
So rivals are pushing what they believe is the right approach: wi-fi or 5G.
Self-driving cars are a race between wi-fi and 5G
Wi-fi is a technology best suited for shorter distances that USES special radio frequencies to connect to surrounding infrastructure, such as traffic signals.
It ensures that self-driving cars can perform basic tasks, such as making room for other vehicles and allowing vehicles with signals connected to each other to move closer together.
The technology is backed by Volkswagen, the world's biggest carmaker, and rivals Volvo and Renault.
Volkswagen has invested heavily in wi-fi devices and is starting to install them in cars.The company claims it will allow vehicles within a 500m radius to share information in milliseconds.
5G, on the other hand, is a technology that can be used over long distances, depending on the new wave of network construction that mobile operators are now embarking on.
It also has strong backers, favoured by BMW, Daimler, the parent of mercedes-benz, and nokia and Ericsson, Europe's top telecoms equipment makers.
The companies see 5G as the future and claim the technology will soon eliminate wi-fi.
As was the case with video systems between VHS and Betamax, whichever technology wins will bring huge benefits to supporters and huge losses to losers.
And with so much at stake in the battle over self-driving cars, it's no surprise that a fierce debate has broken out over which technology to choose.Ultimately, regulators must come up with a common framework to determine the future of road transport.
The commission favours making wi-fi the standard system in the eu, in part because the technology is now available.
But at a meeting of the European parliament's transport committee in early April, the French politician Dominique Riquet opposed the proposal, saying it violated their principle of technology neutrality to "ensure that the European Union does not put one technology against another".
His views are strongly opposed by Gesine Meissner, a German politician.
Mr. Meissner, who supports the use of wi-fi, argued that waiting for 5G infrastructure to gain support would mean "wasting a year to improve road safety," but the committee decided against the proposal at the time.
Obstacles for politicians mean that plans to introduce self-driving cars are likely to be delayed, but it also shows how important the issue has become, and that carmakers and telecoms companies will not stop lobbying because of the delays.
"The debate over technical standards for self-driving cars goes to the heart of the eu's digital competitiveness."David Coulling, a partner at the law firm Smith & fisher, explains that "technology choices have to be made now, given the production cycle, and there are already concerns that Europe could be left behind".
News broke that Harald Krueger, chairman of BMW, and Timotheus Hoettes, chief executive of deutsche telekom, had written to the transport minister expressing concerns about wi-fi.
Both support 5G. "we believe that forcing wi-fi will lead to significant delays in the introduction of V2V and V2X communications in Europe."They wrote that they wanted the German government to veto the proposal.
It all came to a head.Opponents say the eu's move to prioritise wi-fi as a networking technology for connected cars will "have a negative impact on the competitiveness of our car industry and the development of 5G technology in Europe".
"It's like putting a DVD in the VCR and trying to make it work."The global association of mobile communications systems (GSMA) argues that prioritising wi-fi will fail to achieve the "common goal of making Europe's roads safer and smarter".
With uncertainty about how cars should "talk" continuing, people on all sides of the argument are likely to find themselves in a bind.
But the battle is far from over, and China's role could be crucial as it bets on 5G.
Qualcomm, the us chipmaker, demonstrated the c-v2x technology in Shanghai in November in partnership with Chinese carmakers.
For Enrico Salvatori, President of qualcomm Europe, wi-fi is fundamentally an "" old technology" "with few opportunities compared to cellular 5G.
"" we should adopt the development path of 5G technology instead of continuing to use the technology of 10 years ago."Said Salvatore.
That line, which cuts across the entire industry, gives automakers ample reason to explore ways to develop autonomous vehicles that can operate independently of wireless systems.
Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI, a British start-up that wants to build a fleet of self-driving cars, sees both 5G and wi-fi connectivity as side technologies. Ultimately, autonomous cars need to be able to navigate on their own.
Boland also pointed to the threat of lost signals and even malicious interference, saying: "the vehicle must be safe without a wireless connection."