Successful conclusion of the lighthouse project “UNICARagil”
Ulm researchers develop automation system

Universität Ulm

On Thursday, 11 May, the final event for one of the largest European projects dealing with autonomous driving was held in Aachen. Four completely driverless prototypes were presented at the event. A total of 17 universities and companies were involved in the five-year project, which received 32 million euros in funding from the Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung , BMBF). The project was coordinated by RWTH Aachen University, and the researchers from Ulm were responsible for the coordination and implementation of the automation design.

Automated electric vehicles play a key role in the mobility of the future with respect to areas such as sustainable and intelligent traffic. For five years, leading German universities researched autonomous driving in cooperation with specialised companies within the scope of the BMBF project UNICARagil, with the aim of advancing the development of highly automated electric vehicles. The success of the project was highlighted during the final presentation at RWTH Aachen University, showcasing the four driverless vehicle prototypes autoCARGO, autoTAXI, autoSHUTTLE and autoELF. “Our task was not simply to expand or improve the existing technology by adding minor details, but also to create new technical foundations”, relates Professor Lutz Eckstein. The director of the Institute for Automotive Engineering at RATW Aachen University coordinated the project. For UNICARagil, a completely new vehicle structure was developed, requiring the scientists to re-think the interaction between chassis, drivetrain and body. The chassis was combined with the drivetrain into four dynamic modules, through which each wheel can be individually controlled and driven. The wheels themselves can be turned by 90 degrees, making it possible to enter even the smallest parking spot.

The ”heart” of an autonomous vehicle is the automation

In order to be able to plan sensible driving manoeuvres, highly complex sensor technology and comprehensive steering intelligence are necessary. The Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology (MRM) at Ulm University, which is very involved in this joint project, is one of the leading research groups in the area of vehicle automation. The MRM has already contributed its expertise for autonomous driving in numerous national and international research projects. “UNICARagil is our largest project to date. We were responsible for the coordination of the automation design and its implementation”, reports Professor Klaus Dietmayer, director of the Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology. “We were responsible for the so-called perception, ie for the mechanical perception of  the vehicle’s environment. For this purpose, we developed and realised a special sensor module, four of which are installed in every vehicle”, explains PD Dr Michael Buchholz, who oversaw the automation section for the project. The sensor modules process radar, lidar and video data for the fully-automated operation of the vehicles. All of the information from all four sensor modules are ultimately fused into one central vehicle environment model, which is then used in the car’s “cerebrum” for planning driving manoeuvres. “The model of the vehicle’s environment provides information about road users as well as a dynamic grid map, which shows vacant and occupied sections of the road as well as static or moving obstacles”, explains Buchholz.

The sensor and control technology for automation was tested for the first time on the so-called autoCARGO, the UNICARagil prototype for small-load transportation and delivery services. Ulm University, in cooperation with the KIT, was responsible for the development of this vehicle. Afterwards, the highly complex vehicle function was transferred to all of the other vehicles. The fact that these new kinds of automated electric vehicles are actually operating successfully on the road without any drivers is thus due, at least in part, to the expertise of the researchers in Ulm.

The project partners are:
RWTH Aachen University (Institute for Automotive Engineering -PROJECT COORDINATION, Chair Computer Science 11 - Embedded Software, Chair and Institute of Flight Systems Dynamics, Chair Controlling),
Technisches Universität Braunschweig (Institute of Control Engineering, Institute of Data Technology and Communication Networks),
Technical University of Darmstadt (Subject Automotive Engineering, Subject Physical and Satellite Geodesy),
Technical University of Munich (Chair Ergonomics, Chair Automotive Engineering),
University of Stuttgart (Institute of Automotive Engineering),
Ulm University (Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology),
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Institute of Measurement and Control Technology, Institute for Materlals Handling and Logistics),
University of Passau (Chair Computer Engineering)
Atlatec GmbH,
flyXdrive GmbH,
iMAR Navigation GmbH

Text and mediacontact: Andrea Weber-Tuckermann
Translation: Kate Gaugler


The prototype of a small-load and delivery vehicle autoCARGO, developed within the scope of the UNICARagil project. Ulm University and KIT were joint coordinators for the development of this prototype (Photo: Amadeus Bramsiepe / KIT)
vehicle environment model
The image shows a vehicle environment model with grid map (white/grey/black/coloured spots). The road users are shown as red boxes. The grey box in the centre of the picture is the vehicle being driven. The coloured lines in the picture show further map information from the traffic area (Image: MRM / Uni Ulm)
PD Dr. Michael Buchholz
PD Dr Michael Buchholz presenting the sub-project at the final event in Aachen (Photo: MRM / Uni Ulm
From left Prof Klaus Dietmayer and PD Dr Michael Buchholz (Photos: Elvira Eberhardt / Uni Ulm)