UNICARagil – First Prototype Rollout
After 3 years of intensive work, the first prototype is ready. At the rollout on Tuesday, 27 April 2021, the first UNICARagil self-driving vehicle was allowed to leave the ika workshop. In recent weeks, the driving platform has been combined with a corresponding superstructure module and the electrical on-board network and drives have been integrated. The prototype is now available for testing autonomous driving functions. Three more vehicles for other applications will follow soon. This is a crucial milestone in the UNICARagil project. This important event in the development of modular automated and driverless vehicles will, of course, be virtual in compliance with the current situation. It will later be presented to the public, the project advisory board, and consortium.
The completion of the hardware integration marks an important milestone. The ready-to-drive platform was married to the body module and all mechatronic components required for driving were integrated. This driving platform’s special features are its completely modular form and its integration of innovative dynamic modules that electronically network the drive, brake, and steering for each individual wheel with steering angles of up to 90°. This platform forms the basis for various advanced modules. They are tailor-made for the intended use of the vehicle, for example, local passenger transportation or the transportation of goods. The driving prototype is based on an innovative vehicle structure that was designed and constructed from scratch in this project. Similarly, the electrical/electronic architecture, including the cerebrum, brain stem, and dynamic modules was redeveloped, designed, and manufactured in the project, including dedicated control units for traction and steering control. The project consortium was therefore eagerly awaiting the rollout.
Unfortunately, due to the current situation with the pandemic, not all project participants were able to assemble and celebrate this milestone in person, as is usual for a rollout. For the time being, the first vehicle was only allowed to cover its first few meters in front of a small audience. The over 100 project employees, the project advisory board, and interested members of the public witnessed the rollout virtually.
UNICARagil is making an important contribution to shaping the mobility of tomorrow. The project sees fully automated and driverless vehicles researched and four different variants prototyped. The research work focuses on novel hardware and software architectures to realize fully driverless vehicles and to continuously update their driving functions. The first driving prototype gives an idea of the possibilities that will arise on the basis of the modular architecture.
Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), considers UNICARagil to have great trend-setting potential: "With funding from the BMBF, UNICARagil offers the opportunity to develop disruptive approaches for autonomous driving from research and to test them. In cooperation with industry project partners, eight universities will provide fundamentally new solutions and highly trained engineers. This will all contribute to the prospect of not only driving autonomous vehicles in Germany, but also building them."
What is next?
The project is now entering a decisive phase. Now that the first prototype is ready and can move from its own power, other core issues of the project are coming to the fore. The vehicle will be fully automated in the coming months. For this purpose, the sensor modules are equipped and the cerebrum and brain stem are integrated and interconnected. The software and automated driving functions developed in the project will gradually be put into operation, tested, and tried out in extensive driving trials. Safety plays a prominent role in the project. The interior will be built as the last phase of the project.
About the project:
In the BMBF-funded UNICARagil project, Germany's leading universities in the automotive sector have joined forces with selected researchers from industry to rethink the vehicle and its development processes in a revolutionary way. The project consortium, led by Prof. Lutz Eckstein, Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, is designing disruptive, modular, and agile vehicle concepts in the project. Based on the developed platform, four different applications, ranging from automated family vehicles to mobile packing stations will be prototyped and secured.
More than 100 project employees and 15 professors have been researching innovative concepts for driverless vehicles and their implementation since the project started in February 2018. Bringing together the competencies of the various project partners in their respective fields has led to the complex issues of driverless driving being viewed from different perspectives and new interdisciplinary approaches to solutions identified and implemented. Thus, in the first phase of the project, a layered architecture was developed that encompasses a functional, information technology, mechatronic, and geometric view as well as the networking of these levels. First core elements of the developed concepts have already been prototypically implemented and used for further research.
The following are members of the consortium: educational institutions RWTH Aachen University, TU Braunschweig, TU Darmstadt, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, TU München, University of Stuttgart, University of Ulm, and the University of Passau, together with industrial partners ATLATEC GmbH, flyXdrive GmbH, iMAR Navigation GmbH, IPG Automotive GmbH, Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG, and VIRES Simulationstechnologie GmbH. Furthermore, the project is supported by the two associated partners Maxion Wheels Holding GmbH and Valeo Schalter und Sensoren GmbH. The BMBF is funding project with a total of 26 million euros for two years.