28. December 2021
Research platform for robotic electromobility

From space to the road – 10 years of RObo­MO­bil

DLR ROboMObil
DLR RObo­MO­bil
Image 1/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

DLR ROboMObil

The RObo­MO­bil was com­plet­ed in 2011. The first of­fi­cial pic­ture shows 'RO­MO' in front of the Tech­Lab at DLR Oberp­faf­fen­hofen. The robot­ic elec­tric ve­hi­cle is based here and is con­stant­ly be­ing fur­ther de­vel­oped. The DLR In­sti­tute of Sys­tem Dy­nam­ics and Con­trol us­es the ve­hi­cle as a re­search plat­form.
Robotic wheel units on the research vehicle
Robot­ic wheel units on the re­search ve­hi­cle
Image 2/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Robotic wheel units on the research vehicle

The in­no­va­tive mecha­tron­ic chas­sis of the RObo­MO­bil is based on four iden­ti­cal robot­ic wheel units. Propul­sion, steer­ing, damp­ing and brak­ing are in­te­grat­ed in­to each wheel unit. The wheel units are co­or­di­nat­ed with the help of an in­tel­li­gent cen­tral con­trol sys­tem that op­er­ates the en­tire ve­hi­cle. The in­di­vid­u­al­ly steer­able wheel units give the robot­ic elec­tric ve­hi­cle a high de­gree of ma­noeu­vra­bil­i­ty, which even al­lows it to drive side­ways and turn on the spot.
'Marriage' of chassis and bodywork
'Mar­riage' of chas­sis and body­work
Image 3/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

'Marriage' of chassis and bodywork

A spe­cial mo­ment in ev­ery ve­hi­cle pro­duc­tion pro­cess is the 'mar­riage' of chas­sis and pow­er­train. In May 2010, the mono­coque struc­ture of the RObo­MO­bil, that is the one-piece con­struc­tion of the chas­sis, was con­nect­ed to the axle mod­ules and the four robot­ic wheel units. In the fi­nal pro­duc­tion steps, the DLR de­vel­op­ers then in­stalled poly­car­bon­ate win­dows in the body, fit­ted the hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­face in the in­te­ri­or and in­te­grat­ed the elec­tri­cal com­po­nents in­to the re­search ve­hi­cle.
Driving simulation with the DLR Robotic Motion Simulator
Driv­ing sim­u­la­tion with the DLR Robot­ic Mo­tion Sim­u­la­tor
Image 4/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Driving simulation with the DLR Robotic Motion Simulator

In a spe­cial ex­per­i­ment, the RObo­MO­bil team used the 'Robot­ic Mo­tion Sim­u­la­tor' (RMS). In June 2016, they car­ried out var­i­ous driv­ing sim­u­la­tions to test the new hap­tic hu­man-ma­chine in­ter­face and in­ves­ti­gate the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween driv­er and ve­hi­cle be­haviour. The RMS was al­so de­vel­oped at the DLR In­sti­tute of Sys­tem Dy­nam­ics and Con­trol in Oberp­faf­fen­hofen. The sys­tem can be flex­i­bly adapt­ed and has a par­tic­u­lar­ly large work­ing space with its robot­ic arm. The mo­tion sim­u­la­tor al­lows ex­treme tilt an­gles so that high­ly re­al­is­tic driv­ing and flight sim­u­la­tions are pos­si­ble.
  • ROboMObil, shortened to ROMO, is a unique DLR research vehicle.
  • For 10 years, it has served as a technology demonstrator and research platform for projects on autonomous driving, vehicle dynamics, control technology and artificial intelligence.
  • The world's first robotic electric vehicle can turn within its own length, move sideways, and at an angle.
  • Focus: Space, transport

The ROboMObil (ROMO) has been transferring space research to the road since 2011. The project began a few years earlier at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) when researchers at the Robotics and Mechatronics Center (RMC) had the idea to combine rover technology developed for Mars and lunar vehicles with electric mobility. This is how one of the world's first robotic electric vehicles was created in Oberpfaffenhofen. It can drive autonomously, turn within its own length and move sideways or at an angle. This makes parking in narrow spaces child’s play. With the help of ROMO, new technologies can be developed that make vehicles extremely manoeuvrable and safe when using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The streamlined, futuristic design received mixed reactions from car enthusiasts. However, at its first international appearance, during the Berlin Air Show (Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung; ILA) in 2012, the two-seater quickly became a crowd favourite. During the same year, the team also received professional recognition. With the eCarTec Award – the Bavarian state prize for electric mobility – the ROboMObil was honoured as the 'most significant product vision in electric mobility'.

Autonomous driving thanks to space research

Project Manager Jonathan Brembeck has been shaping this vision since the initial drafts for the concept. At the DLR Institute of System Dynamics and Control at the RMC, he has witnessed how an idea on paper became a unique vehicle suitable for the road. Brembeck vividly recalls the debut drive 10 years ago: "I was excited to see if everything would work. The mechanics and electrics ran smoothly, and the battery also worked reliably. It was just the control system that was not quite optimal yet." A heart-stopping moment. "But with a few tweaks we were able to adjust the settings and then the ROboMObil drove as desired – that was an incredible feeling," says the researcher.

ROboMObil can be operated by a person in the vehicle or remotely, both via a sidestick. Fully autonomous driving is also possible. Its 18 cameras capture the environment in a 360-degree panoramic view. This enables ROMO to find its way independently in unknown environments, even without the help of a map. The researchers originally developed this autonomous driving concept for space robotics. Today, the RMC algorithms are used in the intelligent driver assistance systems of leading car manufacturers.

The core structure of the vehicle is also derived from space research – all four wheel units are equipped with propulsion, steering, damping and brakes. These robotic wheel units are coordinated with the help of an intelligent central control system so that the vehicle can move in all directions. ROMO is also the first robotic electric vehicle with a drive-by-wire central control system – the robotic wheel units are controlled via electrical cables without a mechanical coupling. A conventional steering wheel is therefore not required.

Discover ROMO virtually

Over the years, the research vehicle had to prove itself during technology demonstrations for various industrial partners. Finally, they were allowed to drive ROboMObil themselves on a virtually marked course using the sidestick. "It is always exciting to see how well outsiders can handle the system," says Brembeck. Some of the guest drivers proved to be particularly skilled. This led to the assumption among the participants that prior experience gained at home while gaming could be advantageous when controlling ROMO. A ranking list of the best drivers was also compiled, "… but this list will remain confidential forever."

Due to the pandemic, it will be a while until the next test drive. However, everyone can now go on a virtual discovery tour of ROMO. A new blog portal with videos, images and scientific documents offers insights into more than 10 years of research work. Visitors can retrace the production stages, follow the first test drive and accompany ROMO at various events. "Technology demonstrations are difficult during a pandemic like this. We are all the more pleased that we can now present our research work to a broad audience in a digital way," explains Brembeck.

Research platform for tomorrow

Since its first research journey in 2011, DLR's robotic electric vehicle has been making valuable contributions as a technology platform. It has already been on the road for a wide variety of research topics, from optimised vehicle dynamics control to the development of energy management concepts. Thanks to its autonomous and exceptionally flexible driving characteristics as well as the option to steer without a wheel using drive-by-wire technology, ROMO continues to be a sought-after research partner.

In future, the project team will increasingly work in the field of highly automated battery-powered electric vehicles. Among other things, they are developing AI-supported methods for control and system diagnostics. In the coming years, the Oberpfaffenhofen team will also develop cloud-based approaches to be able to use even larger datasets and more complex control architectures. ROboMObil is thus ready for the next stages of its research journey.

Contact
  • Bernadette Jung
    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ober­paf­fen­hofen, Weil­heim, Augs­burg
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-2251
    Fax: +49 8153 28-1243
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
    Contact
  • Jonathan Brembeck
    Robotics and Mecha­tron­ics Cen­ter (RMC)
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Sys­tem Dy­nam­ics and Con­trol
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
    Contact

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