How can automated driving be advanced through the Internet of Things? Together with more than 40 European partners from research and industry, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has successfully brought these two future technologies together in the EU project 'AUTOPILOT' (Automated Driving Progressed by the Internet of Things). The project focused on the development, testing and assessment of new driving modes and transportation services as well as the IT architectures and platforms required to implement them. These technologies ensure that the various components of the Internet of Things – from smartphones and drones to traffic lights, cameras and other sensors – are able to communicate with automated vehicles. Together, more data can be collected, generated and analysed than would be possible with automated vehicles alone –further improving the safety, efficiency and comfort of tomorrow's smart mobility.
Automated parking with drone support
In the 'Automated Valet Parking' sub-project, researchers from the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems developed a concept to drastically reduce the time spent searching for and manoeuvring into a parking space. The driver drops off their car at a specified location and then uses an app to issue parking instructions. The system behind the app knows where there are free parking spaces and navigates the vehicle accordingly and parks it. The user can also retrieve the vehicle using the app. The information on available parking spaces is obtained by a networked and fully autonomous flying drone – a component of the Internet of Things. It flies a fixed course at a height of two or three metres and uses its four cameras to acquire data. With this information, the system can identify free parking spaces, determine the optimal route and detect obstacles. The DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics originally developed the 'ARDEA' drone for the exploration of planets and for use in disaster areas, such as detecting people in buildings that cannot be entered safely or which have already partially collapsed. For this reason, it flies at a relatively low altitude and independently of satellite navigation data. "Unlike stationary cameras, the drone can be used flexibly, for example in parking areas without the necessary infrastructure or in parking areas that are only used temporarily, such as a field at a festival," explains DLR researcher Marcus Müller. Project Manager Robert Kaul from the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems adds, "The new and challenging aspect of our sub-project was the large number of devices involved that all have to communicate with each other, that is, they all have to speak a common language." Kaul's team created a superordinate IT platform for this purpose that enables the integration of all the required elements and their interaction through the appropriate interfaces. The platform also manages data traffic and, as an open source solution, is independent of individual providers. The scientists have successfully demonstrated that all components work together virtually and in reality through practical trials held at the DLR site in Braunschweig (see video).
High-tech meets users – expectations and acceptance
Both automated driving and the Internet of Things are still in the early stages of development and of improving individual mobility and entire transportation systems. User expectations and acceptance play an important role in successfully bringing together people and new technologies. Experts from the DLR Institute of Transport Research have therefore investigated the requirements, expectations and concerns of users for the applications developed and tested as part of the AUTOPILOT project. They conducted an online survey, led practical tests on site and asked pilot users about their experiences. "In general, the response was positive," says DLR researcher Viktoriya Kolarova. "It is important that the services are easy to book or use – and providing more information about how the technology behind them works only increases trust." In addition to technical and digital security, the main concerns include reliability and data protection. For example, when it came to automated parking, the respondents also wanted to be able to obtain information about where their vehicle was at any given time.