The First Pre-Production Low Earth Orbit Satellite to Support Automaker Geely's Future Self-Driving Vehicles Rolls Off the Assembly Line
Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding ("Geely"), which is also the parent company of Sweden's Volvo Cars, plans to use a network of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to help its future autonomous vehicle navigate with the highest level of safety with centimeter level precision.
Now the first pre-production LEO satellite has just rolled off the assembly line at Geely's satellite manufacturing factory in Taizhou, Zhejiang. It marks Geely's next steps towards full scale production of commercial satellites to support its future autonomous vehicles.
Geely's Intelligent Satellite Production and Testing Center is the first AIT (Assembly, Integration, and Testing) facility for commercial satellites in China.
Geely was granted approval in February to launch a network of LEO satellites that it said would support Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications for self-driving.
The satellites were developed entirely in-house by Geespace, a subsidiary of Geely Technology Group, and manufactured by Taizhou Xingkong Intelligent Connectivity Technology Co.,Ltd. (Taizhou Xingkong), which is also controlled by Geely Technology Group. Geespace was established in 2018 for the development, launch, and operation of low-orbit satellites.
According to Anne Xu of Geespace, Geely's low orbit satellites will focus on the application of "high-precision satellite positioning technology." Geely said that using low-orbit satellites would also provide its vehicles with high speed internet connectivity. But they will primarily be used for narrow-band IoT communications and cloud computing capabilities for automated driving.
The automaker also said the satellites will be instrumental in improving a range of mobility services and V2X communications. Geely invested 2.27 billion yuan ($326 million) to build its satellite manufacturing plant.
Geely's network of Low Earth Orbit satellites with support autonomous driving, V2X and cloud communications.
The satellite factory takes advantage of Geely's experience in intelligent manufacturing. The satellite factory integrates the latest manufacturing technologies, including satellite R&D, core component production, advanced testing, cloud computing and big data analysis. The facility will use a modular production process to assemble, integrate, and test different types of satellites.
At full capacity, the plant will have an annual production capacity of 500 satellites, according to Geely.
"This achievement is a reflection of "Geely speed" and "Geely determination," said Xu Zhihao, CEO of Geely Technology Group at the satellite plant's start of production launch ceremony. "With the rapid pace of change in the aerospace industry and the integration of new communication technologies in different sectors such as satellite internet, autonomous driving, and cloud computing, a bright future lies ahead for commercial aerospace."
Geely's satellite network can support highly percise navigation for autonomous vehicles.
Geely is not alone in its pursuit of satellite technology to support a fleet of cloud connected cars.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is also using LEO satellites for the Starlink network to provide internet access to rural areas. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and currently serves as the company's CEO and CTO. SpaceX was the first privately owned aerospace company to send astronauts into orbit, as well as to the International Space Station.
SpaceX intends to create a "global communications ecosystem" using Starlink satellites that Musk has compared to "rebuilding the internet in space." Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations around the world where access has been unreliable, too expensive, or non-existent. The data transfer speeds would be much faster than traditional internet connections, according to Musk.
Last year, we reported about the possibility of Tesla using the Starlink's satellite communications technology. For Tesla, perhaps the most important use of the Starlink service could be for connected vehicle technology, so that its vehicles can communicate with other Tesla vehicles, with infrastructure and to the cloud to support higher levels of autonomous driving.
Imagine a future where millions of autonomous vehicles are connected to each other and to infrastructure, sending data to and from the cloud using thousands of orbiting satellites. While Musk has not publicly spoken of harnessing the power of Starlink to support a global network of connected Tesla vehicles like Geely plans to do, the possibility is nonetheless intriguing for future applications.
Apple Inc is also rumored to be adding satellite communications technology to the next-generation iPhone.
The next-generation iPhone will reportedly feature low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls or receive and send messages in areas of poor 4G or 5G coverage, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, a well known Apple analyst at TF International Securities. Kuo made his comments in late August.
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