April 29, 2021 | Project SET Level

Simulation tests for the certification of automated vehicles

  • Simulation tests will play a decisive role in the certification of automated vehicles.
  • In the SET Level project, DLR and its partners are developing the necessary simulation tools and methods.
  • The challenge is to digitally represent complex realistic scenarios as precisely, reliably and efficiently as possible.
  • On 29 April 2021, the researchers presented their results to an international audience of experts at the virtual mid-term event using three simulated traffic scenarios.
  • Focus: Transport, intelligent mobility, digitalisation

Before highly automated and networked vehicles are allowed on German and European roads, their safety must be comprehensively proven. While conventional vehicles are subject to established and officially recognised certification methods and regular testing, the rules for the validation of automated driving systems, in which the driver relinquishes control for longer periods or on certain sections of the route, are still in their infancy. Simulations, or digital tests, will play a major role in developing these rules. In the simulation-based development and testing of automated driving (SET Level) project, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Transportation Systems is working with 19 partners from industry and research to develop the necessary digital tools and to link them together in a 'tool chain'. These tools will simulate as many traffic situations as possible as reliably and in as much detail as possible. By doing so, a significant proportion of physical driving tests can be transferred to simulations. This saves time and costs and makes the certification process more efficient and comprehensible.

Simulated tests as a prerequisite for the certification of automated vehicles

For an automated and networked vehicle to be suitable for the reality of road traffic, it must successfully master several thousand traffic situations. Testing them all in practical road tests is beyond the scope of any certification process. "Only with powerful simulation-based tools and methods which can be used during development and during the certification process can automated vehicles be safely brought onto the road and into use," explains DLR's Frank Köster, one of the SET Level project's two coordinators. "Simulations are an important addition to existing techniques, such as test stands and test fields." DLR's primary contribution to the project is its many years of experience in the digital and physical operation of test fields and test infrastructure, as well as its expertise in the field of digital twins. Digital twinning is a technique used during technology development for transferring objects or processes from the real to the digital world. In addition to the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems, two new DLR institutes currently being established, the Institute of Systems Engineering for Future Mobility and the Institute for Artificial Intelligence Safety and Security, also conduct work in this field.

Converting complex realistic scenarios into code as efficiently as possible

The SET Level team face a host of challenges. In addition to the car that will be tested – including its software, sensors and control technology – they must also create a digital image of the complex surrounding traffic environment. This includes roads, infrastructure, vehicles of all kinds, other road users on foot or on bicycles, different weather conditions and disruptive factors. The selection of test scenarios is also key. "Even using simulations, we cannot cover all theoretically conceivable scenarios," says Hardi Hungar, scientific lead for the DLR activities in the project. "That would see us carrying out calculations forever. Instead, we have to reliably select those scenarios that are representative for the assessment of the vehicle's safety. Addressing the questions around how to arrive at these scenarios and how to comprehensively test them in the simulation is also an important part of the project." Hungar goes on to describe the simulated tests: "The virtual test vehicle drives through the replicated traffic area while situational assessment results and test outputs from the vehicle are displayed in parallel. This allows you to follow how the test vehicle deals with different challenges."

The project team has already reached its first milestone. It has developed the individual components of the simulation and demonstrated that these tools are compatible with one another. On 29 April 2021, the researchers presented these results to an international audience of experts at the project’s virtual mid-term event using three simulated traffic scenarios.

Another special feature of the SET Level project is that it relies as much as possible on open-source solutions. This allows the methods produced to be used and further developed by many companies and research institutions after the end of the project. It also has a noticeable effect on the nature of the project's partnership and cooperation. “Together we want to establish methods and set standards for the certification processes for highly automated vehicles in Germany and Europe," says Henning Mosebach, Head of Research Strategy at the Institute of Transport Systems. "The project's diverse consortium has come together to achieve this."

About the SET Level project

A total budget of more than 30 million euro funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) is available for the SET Level project. It builds on the PEGASUS project, which was completed in May 2019. During the PEGASUS project, DLR and its partners developed quality standards and methods to safeguard highly automated vehicles. The focus here was on motorway driving. The SET Level project comprehensively expands the simulation approach used in PEGASUS and extends the application to the entire traffic area.

The project partners of the DLR Institute of Transportation Systems are: ADC Automotive Distance Control Systems GmbH (a Continental AG company), Audi AG, BMW AG, dSPACE GmbH, ETAS GmbH, Ford-Werke GmbH, Fraunhofer LBF, FZI Research Center for Information Technology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, IPG Automotive GmbH, MAN Truck & Bus AG, OFFIS – Institute for Information Technology, Opel Automobile GmbH, PROSTEP AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, RWTH Aachen (Institute of Automotive Engineering), TU Braunschweig (Institute of Control Engineering), TU Darmstadt (Department of Automotive Engineering), Volkswagen AG, ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

The project will run until August 2022 and is funded by the BMWi 'New Vehicle and System Technologies' programme.


Denise Nüssle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart
Tel: +49 711 6862-8086

Jasmin Begli

Corporate Communications Braunschweig, Cochstedt, Stade and Trauen
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Lilienthalplatz 7, 38108 Braunschweig
Tel: +49 531 295-2108

Prof. dr. Frank Köster

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Transportation Systems
Lilienthalplatz 7, 38108 Braunschweig

Hardi Hungar

Team Leader Processes and Methods
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Transportation Systems
Testing and validation
Lilienthalplatz 7, 38108 Braunschweig