Could Self Driving Cars Get Software Updates Via ATSC 3.0?

ANN ARBOR, MICH.—ATSC 3.0 is being heralded as the next big thing for the broadcast industry, but Sinclair is thinking outside the traditional TV set. According to Mark Aitken, vice president for advanced technology for Sinclair, the Baltimore-based broadcast group participated in a recent automotive technology event hosted by the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) where Sinclair—along with LG/Zenith—transmitted telematics firmware updates and advanced emergency alerting data from Detroit Channel 56 to Ann Arbor, Mich.

Photo courtesy of ATSC

The demonstration showed a potential alternative to cellular-based technologies for transmitting software updates for electronic control systems and firmware downloads for navigation devices that could be used in autonomous vehicles, aka self-driving cars.

“Everybody, when they think of autonomous vehicles, they think of communications and they immediately jump to the conclusion that there’s got to be a cellular radio tied to one of only a very few players to drive that vehicle,” said Aitken. “But the reality is the vehicles all within the same geographic location need the same data, and broadcasting is the ideal platform for providing the data.”

Sinclair has also begun working out the next steps for what it would take to effectively utilize ATSC 3.0 for autonomous vehicles. It has done the engineering to map out the possibility of a Single Frequency Network (SFN) that could connect the corridor between Ann Arbor and Detroit, which would then be a model for other cities across the nation. A large part of the infrastructure is also already in place, according to Aitken. “This is not like we have to go out and plow billions of dollars into new transmission facilities,” Aitken said, adding that once ATSC 3.0 is approved, Sinclair will look to accelerate its migration and have regional and national services ready within two years.

The television broadcast and automotive industries have never really been partners outside of advertising, but that could change as the automotive industry learns more about ATSC 3.0 technology. “There is in fact a thirst for broadcast content, not television content necessarily, but broadcast content to the autonomous vehicle universe,” Aitken mused. “You could say that Sinclair and LG, for the first time, showed a service opportunity to the automotive industry that is untapped by broadcasters today.”

The MTC conference where Sinclair and LG showcased the demonstration took place on Nov. 16. For more details on the demonstration, read a write-up about it on ATSC’s blog

For more on ATSC 3.0, see TV Technology’sATSC 3.0 silo.