UNICARagil – a collaborative project on the mobility of the future
Universities and industry partners bring automated electric vehicles on the road

Ulm University

With funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the leading German universities in automotive engineering have joined forces with select research partners from the industry to reconceptualise and revolutionise vehicles and their development processes. Under the leadership of Professor Lutz Eckstein from the Institute for Automotive Engineering (ika) of RWTH Aachen University, the four-year-long project UNICARagil has set out to design a new disruptive, modular and agile vehicle architecture and platform. Based on this platform, prototypes are being developed and secured for four different use cases from automated family taxis to mobile packing stations.

Six scientists from Ulm University's Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology (MRM), are developing under the guidance of Professor Klaus Dietmayer the technology for the autonomous, i.e. driverless, operation of the platform and all use cases. The self-driving vehicles are being tested in the digital Zukunftsstadt Ulm (City of the Future).

Autonomous electric vehicles are going to be an integral part of mobility in the future: they build the foundation for sustainable and intelligent traffic, novel mobility and transportation concepts, improved road safety as well as increased life quality in urban spaces. Suitable vehicle concepts, however, call for means to process and transfer information inside the vehicle that are dramatically more centralised and powerful. This demand requires a shift away from current established architectures and processes. The methods for the evolutionary advancement of existing systems and concepts that were used effectively in the automotive industry throughout the last 130 years, stand slim chances of success in this challenge.

Electric mobility meets autonomous driving

Borrowing from the IT industry with its fast development cycles and update mechanisms, UNICARagil uses the latest research results in electric mobility as well as automated and networked driving to develop autonomous electric vehicles for a wide range of future use scenarios. At the basis is a modular and scalable vehicle concept comprising usage and propulsion units, which can be adapted flexibly to the manifold types of use in logistics and passenger transportation. Core element of the research and development efforts is the functional vehicle architecture, which is connected to the Cloud, road infrastructure and so-called info bees (drones as flying sensor clusters). Other areas focus on the development of generic sensor modules for environment detection, and soft- and hardware architectures that can be updated and expanded flexibly. Dynamic modules are also being developed for isolated steering, acceleration and breaking of individual wheels, which makes it possible to move through traffic in completely new ways.

Innovative systems for the mobility of tomorrow

The project consortium, who initiated the project, comprises six professors from the network of the Uni-DAS e.V. They are joined by partners from science as well as enterprises in the areas of propulsion, simulation, IT security, embedded software and systems, communications, mapping and localisation, logistics as well as electric mobility. The endeavour bears the opportunity to initiate a variety of innovations regarding components and systems for autonomous electric cars as well as for the implementation of automated drive functions.

UNICARagil: unique flagship project in Germany

Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel said at today's kick-off event in Aachen: 'There is a high demand for electric vehicles that are suitable for everyday use, be it as taxis or delivery vehicles. Our research aims to ensure the development of vehicles that are powerful, reliable and emission-free. UNICARagil is a unique flagship project in Germany.'

The project contributes greatly to an increased innovative capacity in Germany in the field of autonomous electric driving and systematically interlinks interdisciplinary research, development and teaching at several science locations in Germany.

Ulm's researchers provide technology for driverless operation

The Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology (MRM) at Ulm University, directed by Professor Klaus Dietmayer, collaborates with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) to realise the automation component for all vehicle types of the platform. The result will be an autonomous (i.e. driverless) operation in urban environments at a maximum speed of 70 km/h. Inner-city areas are particularly challenging, because vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians all share very narrow spaces.

Ulm focuses on the design and realisation of the entire feature of automated environment detection as well as interpretation algorithms that help the vehicle 'understand' traffic situations. For this purpose, Ulm is developing and building new generic sensor modules based on lidar, radar and camera sensors for all vehicle types. 'The data provided by these modules will be the basis for the realisation of the software that maps the surroundings and understands the situation. This is the foundation that allows to plan options for action and the behaviour of the vehicle,' says Dr. Michael Buchholz, subproject manager for the area of sensor technology.

Test vehicles coasting through the digital Zukunftsstadt Ulm

Ulm is also involved in the development and realisation of the vehicle type AUTOlieferer, an autonomous delivery vehicle for the automated distribution and delivery of goods in city areas. These 'mobile packing stations', which can pick up and drop off goods independently, are going to be tested in the digital Zukunftsstadt Ulm and Baden-Württemberg's test field for automated driving in Karlsruhe. Ulm University alone has almost € 2.6 million at its disposal for these research tasks. 'The project receives funding for six science positions for four years and is the largest and probably most challenging individual project ever acquired by the Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology,' says Professor Klaus Dietmayer, Director of the Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology. 'It can only be realised because all project partners, including the MRM, are contributing tremendous groundwork - the results of many years of research, achieved also in collaboration with industry partners, such as in the Tech Center a-drive.'

€23.2 million funding for four-year period

The 4-year project kicked off on 1 February 2018. It receives funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the framework of the research initiative 'Disruptive vehicle concepts for autonomous electric mobility' (Auto-Dis). The project volume amounts to €23.3 million (with 94% being funded by the BMBF). Members of the consortium are: RWTH Aachen University, TU Braunschweig, TU Darmstadt, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), University of Stuttgart, and Ulm University as well as industry partners ATLATEC GmbH, flyXdrive GmbH, iMAR Navigation GmbH, IPG Automotive GmbH, Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG and VIRES Simulationstechnologie GmbH. 

Highly automated driving at Ulm University
Prof. Klaus Dietmayer (left) and Dr. Michael Buchholz, Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology (photo: Elvira Eberhardt/kiz)