Test track A9 – A public experimental laboratory for autonomous driving

Test track A9 – A public experimental laboratory for autonomous driving

Autonomous Driving is considered by politics and industry as the future of driving. Chancellor Angela Merkel said in June of this year, before students in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, that “we […] will only be allowed to drive independently with a special permit in 20 years.”

To achieve this milestone, there are still some steps to do. In order to test the technological progress not only in the laboratory or on roads excluded by the road traffic acts, the Federal Ministry of transport and digital infrastructure (BMVI), under the direction of Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) established in the year 2015 on an approximately 140 kilometer long stretch of the A9 between Nuremberg and Munich, a test track for autonomous driving. Moreover, the Federation is working together with Infineon and Siemens, and equipped the highway in the year 2016 with a “state of the art technology” to win “high-precision real-time data on traffic flow, traffic density, speed, and driving behavior”. The A9 is due to its six tracks and the on the right side of the highway located industry particularly well. In addition, Bayern has a special interest due to its automobile manufacturers Audi and BMW.

Technically up-to-date

In a first step, a radar sensor system was added, that measures all vehicles in real-time. Ten of the systems capture the data that should be provided to the public via mCLOUD. Currently, only the digital maps of the A9 are however available. Added to this in December 2016 were the so-called landmark signs, which allow the vehicles – and their software – to determine the exact position in longitudinal and the transversal direction independently. Together with the Radar sensor and the digital measured maps, and so a further step is done to Autonomous Driving.

Autonomous vehicles have their own sensors and are based on software-level, on the pulse of the time, but they only play out their strengths in the cooperation with other autonomous vehicles and stations on the roadside. For this purpose, communication capabilities are required, that are much faster and lag-free on the one side –  just think of the transmission of a braking instruction of the previous cars – and on the other hand, have a larger bandwidth to be able to transfer all the data from the sensors. For this purpose, Ericsson, BMW, Deutsche Bahn, three mobile operators and various Federal institutes and universities have merged into the consortium 5G-ConnectedMobility. 5G is the successor of the currently available 4. Generation LTE and is operated independently of the regular mobile network. The Deutsche Bahn would also benefit from the railway line of the new network, which is running parallel to the motorway.

Another approach in this direction is the cooperation of Bosch, Vodafone and Huawei. The companies are developing the Standard LTE- V2X (LTE Vehicle-to-anything), which corresponds to an LTE extension and can manage without an intermediate cellular network. The range here is approximately 300 meters and is used for direct communication between vehicles. Both systems are currently in the testing phase. Another consortium, – with some of its users being again Ericsson, Toyota, and Intel – takes care of the server parks, which should handle the rapidly growing amount of data in the background.

Will the test track be adopted?

The local car manufacturers accept the offer. After the Federal government has clarified the legal and especially the technical framework conditions, Audi is primarily testing the A9. The pilot project called “Jack” –  an A7, upgraded with numerous sensors and multiple computers, is often on the go, to push the new systems to their limits. Also transport minister Dobrindt, the Bavarian economics minister Ilse Aigner, or Bayern Munich’s coach Carlo Ancelotti came also into the pleasure of a test drive. Private customers can win rides on the Social Media pages of the company. Audi itself is hoping for important insights from the everyday use.

Further testing should also take place in 2018, with large tautliners, which weigh up to 40 tons. These trucks are interesting especially for the logistics and forwarding sector – and thus also for sennder. Here, DB Schenker together with MAN, let trucks drive in the convoys, the so-called truck-platooning. The first truck has a human driver and provides direction and speed, the rest of the trucks follow a so-called electronic tow bar. The distance between the vehicles is thus approximately ten meters, which is supposed to save according to MAN up to 10% of fuel and emissions due to slipstream driving. A further advantage is the increased traffic safety since rear-end collisions are practically excluded. Problems could occur due to the convoy length, because of cars that want to take a motorway exit, and would have to let the entire convoy pass first. These and other practical challenges are to be overcome with such tests as the one on the A9.

The step of about 140 kilometers of test track to the almost 13,000 kilometers. Autobahn in Germany is a mammoth project – not to talk of the federal roads. The beginning is made, but until we are only allowed to drive with a special permit, it will still be some time.