UAV Based Measurement Opportunities and Evaluation for 5/6G Connectivity of Autonomous Vehicles

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Virginia Tech

The emergence of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) along with the implementation of 5G networks offers exciting opportunities in expanding wireless capabilities. Not only is improved wireless performance expected with traditional devices such as mobile phones, but new use cases such as the internet-of-things and autonomous vehicle operation will rely on 5G and future network generations. In such widespread applications, from transportation to vital business operation, reliable and often guaranteed connectivity is required for safety and commercial approval. Introducing UAVs into network processes has been explored and implemented in certain instances to take advantage of the flexibility drone devices offer in their mobility and control to address these evolving network possibilities. While practical UAV deployment in certain network cases has been demonstrated, including coverage restoration in disaster relief scenarios, more ambitious goals of 5G will have additional considerations. This includes autonomous vehicles (AVs) whose operation is defined by levels representing varying degrees of autonomy. With computational requirements exponentially increasing as a vehicle's autonomy level is increased, 5G is expected to play an integral role in offloading certain vehicle tasks to the cloud. This thesis then proposes UAV based measurement opportunities as a method to characterize 5G coverage as part of autonomous vehicle processes to identify the proper level of autonomy that can operate safely given the current RF environment. This thesis proposes an UAV based measurement system that would provide coverage verification employing a platform capable of precise RF measurements and enhanced spatial sampling of the environment. Methods employed to traditionally characterize available coverage, including cellular drive tests, do not result in accurate enough measurements for AV use cases. Where lack of coverage in common network processes and use cases can result in dropped calls and poor connectivity in mobile devices, autonomous systems proposed in evolving network generations that deal with safety and mission critical functions must have guaranteed and verified coverage. Data produced in this thesis demonstrates that the proposed UAV based measurement system will improve measurement accuracy and enhanced geographic performance over conventional automotive vehicle based measurement systems

UAV based measurements, autonomous vehicle connectivity, smart city, 5G, mmWave frequency, cellular drive test, coverage map, spatial resolution