Amazon and SpaceX are doing satellite constellation project Kuiper and Starlink, respectively. They are the pioneers of that notion of having their own satellite, even if it’s not a space business at its finest. Can the big transnational enterprises like car manufacturers be the second wave of early adopters of the idea of enterprises having their own satellites?
Earlier this year a Chinese car giant Zhejiang Geely Holding Group opened its own satellite manufacturing facility. Geely automaker is going to launch a constellation of LEO satellites to complement its fleet of autonomous vehicles in the future.
Why are car manufacturers looking into space?
Let’s look at why such a case is becoming a reality. Why traditional car manufacturing companies are considering the space segment as their next frontier?
Car manufacturing is all about making huge investments into factories. To produce a large number of vehicles automakers need to have as many repeatable processes at their plants as possible. And as a result, we have hundreds of thousands of cars that did not differ greatly from each other. But what technologies do car manufacturers need to invest in now to become ubiquitous for our future in 10 to 12 years?
In that kind of horizon, it’s not all going to be about even electric cars, but it will all be about self-driving cars.
The world of autonomous vehicles
The world of autonomous vehicles… That is why car manufacturing companies are seriously considering having their own satellite constellations in the next five years.
There is one main concern about driverless cars — connectivity. And it’s not all about the connectivity to pass the Internet to do navigation and guidance. Even today navigation and guidance can be done through the onboard processing of the information from the cameras and lidars. It’s also about streaming the content, Netflix, HBO, etc., to autonomous vehicles. It’s about keeping passengers entertained and busy during their travel time in a self-driving car.
Once you leave the urban area, you cannot really rely on cell towers. Even today, if you drive 100 miles north of San Francisco, your connection quality will drop to 2G, not even 3G. And whatever happens in the next decade (6G? 7G?), you still need to have the cell towers everywhere to provide the connectivity. That’s why car manufacturing companies are looking at the space segment. Satellite constellations can provide an Internet connection to their cars.
Satellite constellations tailored to cars
There are Starlink and other startups that provide this kind of connectivity. But they are not tailored to cars and cars’ use cases. Also, the fact that the mass production of cars requires repeatable processes, leads to the need to lock connectivity solutions in someone else’s ecosystem for almost a decade at least. Let’s assume that automakers will design their manufacturing facilities and tooling around that. But what if the connectivity startup goes bankrupt or what if that company decides also to work for your competitors?
Car manufacturing companies need to spend 5 or 7 billion of capital expenditure over a decade to launch their own constellation of satellites that will be connected to their fleet of autonomous vehicles. If they have this type of thinking it’s like a feasible product that they are seriously looking into. Also, there’s always a possibility to spread the cost among two or three major car manufacturers.
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