Geely says linking its cars directly to satellites will open up a huge range of accurate self-driving abilities and high-speed internet connectivity. Picture: REUTERS
Geely says linking its cars directly to satellites will open up a huge range of accurate self-driving abilities and high-speed internet connectivity. Picture: REUTERS

Chinese carmaker Geely is planning to send the first of its squadron of satellites into space later this year to help guide its future self-driving cars.

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the parent company of Geely, said it was investing 2.27-billion yuan (R5.3bn) on a fleet of low-orbit satellites, ramping up to 500 satellites a year by 2025.

Its plan is to fire the satellites into geostationary orbit in time to be connected to its scheduled rollout of self-driving cars in what it calls its “smart three-dimensional mobility ecosystem”.

Geely believes that the cars under its umbrella will be able to directly connect to its satellites by 2025, opening up a huge range of accurate self-driving abilities, high-speed internet connectivity, over-the-air updates, cloud computing, in-car entertainment and smart-car options.

A Geely spokesman said the company believes in-car connectivity is in its infancy and that low-earth orbit satellites will make it easier to boost the internet speeds of its cars.

Other advantages, it insisted, included more accurate satellite navigation, with the low-orbit satellites accurate to just 10mm, rather than the several metres delivered by conventional satnav. This makes the system perfect for self-driving cars, but only if the connection speeds are high enough.

A world full of autonomous cars could clog up 4G and even 5G networks, which Geely’s space plan neatly sidesteps by delivering a failsafe backup network.

 “This accuracy is not only important for cars, it will also become essential for unmanned flight,” the Geely spokesman said.

Geely has made a step that even headline-hunting CEO Elon Musk considered a tech bridge too far for Tesla.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite system won’t hook up with Tesla cars because, as Musk admitted to analysts in January, it was never planned for it.

“The antenna for that high-bandwidth, low-latency (connection) is sort of about the size of medium pizza, which you could put on a car, but I think is more bandwidth than you would really need,” he told analysts.

“But it’s certainly something that could happen in coming years.”

Geely has no plans to open the satellites up for widespread, nonautomotive internet delivery, and it doesn’t plan to open-source them up to other tech companies.

It’s a plan that’s sure to involve the car brands it controls or owns, which will include Volvo, Lotus, Proton, Lynk & Co and Mercedes-Benz’s parent, Daimler, which it owns almost 10% of.

The Geely brand alone sold more cars last year than BMW, at 2.18-million.

It has built a new plant in Taizhou in China’s Zhejiang Province to manufacture the satellites itself (near its conventional car factories) under its Geespace operation, which was launched in 2018.

Geespace is an offshoot of the Geely Technology Group, with 300 full-time specialists on staff, and it plans to design, construct, launch and operate the satellites by itself.