Cars travelling along a road with graphics above them to signify autonomous vehicles.

New research could lead to safer roads and improved global connectivity

An academic at Loughborough University believes his new research can help significantly reduce the number of accidents on our roads by improving the reliability of autonomous vehicles.

Dr Aakash Bansal, a Research Associate at the University’s School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, aims to develop a new communication system for small satellites that will spread internet connectivity to areas where no network is currently available.

His work, which will be facilitated by a two-year fellowship at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), will focus on exploiting the benefits of leaky-wave antenna to develop a low-cost, low-powered solution to worldwide connectivity.

Dr Bansal hopes his work will make our roads safer: “My research will help by enabling and connecting autonomous vehicles with each other through low earth orbit satellites, making them and motorways safer so that people can just relax in the car while they get taken wherever they need to go without worrying about accidents. The idea is to move towards a net zero accidental situation.

“This technology involves developing very small and lightweight satellites - which are about 20 by 30 centimetres in size. They're kept very close to earth forming a blanket of small satellites in space providing connectivity to places where you have no network through current infrastructure.

“The idea is that if there's a very small antenna on top of a car running at 100mph, it can still stay connected with the network through either a single or multiple satellites.

“For autonomous vehicles, one of the biggest problems right now is the fact most sensors are perception based – so they’re cameras and LIDARs placed on the car which are at risk of failure in adverse weather conditions – such as rain or snow. Introducing these satellites will allow vehicles to talk to each other and keep sharing necessary information ahead. This allows the cars to make educated decisions to ensure human lives are safe.”

The research, which is possible as a result of £250,000 worth of funding from the Academy, is set to last two years and will be undertaken in collaboration with external partners – including National Highways, Satellite Applications Catapult and Rogers Corporation.

Dr Bansal says his project won’t just help on the roads either: “There have always been three basic human needs - food, housing, and clothing. However, in the last 20 years, telecommunications have become another key component of survival. It is almost impossible to imagine a life without internet and telecommunication for most of us, however, life without internet is a reality for many.

“Even now, there are significant sections across the globe where there's still no connectivity. How much can we transform the world once everyone is able to talk and learn from each other? This project can really help improve the lives and life chances of those living in the most remote areas.

“The end goal is to ensure that we have a whole shield of satellites covering most of the planet so that no matter where you are - whether that’s Antarctica, a remote village in India or a café in London - you will always have access to good data speed so that you're never disconnected with the world.”


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 23/176

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022. 

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.