Reflecting on 178 days of research operations – U-Shift at the German National Garden Show
- DLR showcased the futuristic U-Shift vehicle concept at the German National Garden Show, BUGA 23, offering a glimpse of the mobility of tomorrow.
- Approximately 250,000 visitors stopped by the DLR stand to learn about the U-Shift, with around 10,000 of them participating in test drives as part of the research initiative.
- The U-Shift concept comprises a driveboard and multiple capsules for flexible transportation of people and goods.
- Focus: Transport, intelligent mobility, future mobility, automated and networked driving, e-mobility
For six months, from 14 April to 8 October 2023, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) offered visitor a first-hand experience of future urban transport at the BUGA 23 garden show in Mannheim. The presentation of two prototypes of the innovative U-Shift vehicle concept was the main attraction. A team from the DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts demonstrated and explained how the U-Shift can autonomously, safely and silently transport people and goods without emissions. Many visitors had the opportunity to enjoy a journey as part of a research project. DLR's futuristic vehicle concept is distinguished by its adaptability. The U-shaped drive unit, referred to as the driveboard, can pick up capsules for various purposes, transport them to their destination and set them down again.
Engaging in hands-on research and technology – the U-shift in research operations
"Our team was on site at German National Garden Show seven days a week for a total of 178 days. During this time, we very successfully and enthusiastically conveyed the significance and exciting nature of DLR research in the field of future mobility," says Tjark Siefkes, Director of the DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts. The DLR stand attracted approximately a quarter of a million visitors. U-Shift Project Manager Marco Münster and his team engaged in discussions about the vehicle concept and its potential applications with 85,000 of these visitors. This provided them with valuable feedback for further research and development, as well as inspiring new ideas for business models and application scenarios. In addition, about 10,000 people travelled around the BUGA site with the U-Shift vehicle in autonomous mode. The 'U-Shift 4' prototype, specially built for this application, covered a total distance of 2800 kilometres. "This achievement is truly impressive given the challenges we faced in designing, constructing and obtaining approval for a completely novel and unique vehicle concept within just one and a half years," says Münster.
Widespread approval of the U-Shift vehicle concept among visitors
Attendees at BUGA rated the vehicle concept and the U-Shift prototypes on display very positively. Only approximately 0.1 percent of the more than 80,000 conversations featured negative feedback. "Many visitors shared their enthusiasm for the U-Shift, contributing to the project's growing popularity. We kept hearing from people who had been informed about the U-Shift and wanted to see it for themselves," recalls Münster. "Providing a tangible, hands-on experience significantly enhances the visibility and acceptance of new technologies," adds Siefkes.
BUGA application scenario for the U-Shift – autonomous shuttle bus
At the Garden Show, DLR conducted tests to evaluate the potential future of the U-Shift as an autonomous shuttle bus, including integration into in a local public transport network. "We explored the current capabilities and limitations of this type of passenger shuttle service and identified the necessary adjustments for its successful implementation," explains Münster. "For instance, significant research is still required to address how the autonomous vehicle communicates with users, particularly during boarding and disembarking." Challenges in communication can become more pronounced when users of different languages seek to use the service. Additionally, it can pose difficulties for individuals with limited mobility or impaired vision. Another key finding from the feedback received at BUGA was the importance of a high-quality, appealing vehicle interior to draw people away from their cars and generate enthusiasm about utilising local transport shuttle services. In addition, DLR researchers thoroughly assessed the necessary infrastructure measures for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles such as the U-Shift within mixed traffic environments, alongside non-autonomous vehicles and other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
Companies and local authorities also on board
In addition to interacting with Garden Show visitors, the DLR team also organised workshops with local authorities and businesses. These were aimed at introducing the concept to the participants as part of the research initiative and collaborating on identifying which application scenarios and business models could be realised with the U-Shift. "Once again, we received very positive feedback and keen interest from all parties," says Siefkes. "We are particularly pleased about the inquiries for new pilot projects and further U-Shift tests in both the shuttle and commercial vehicle sectors. The transfer of such a novel autonomous vehicle concept into everyday use is a major task that will require local authorities, operators, manufacturers and legislators to work together."
Promoting the U-Shift through the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Industry in Baden-Württemberg (SDA BW)
The U-Shift project is being implemented as part of the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Industry in Baden-Württemberg (SDA BW) and receives funding from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Tourism. DLR is continuing its collaboration with researchers and industry to advance the vehicle concept that was introduced in 2021. This allows completely new products and business models to emerge. As a prime location for the automotive industry and suppliers, as well as being home to small and medium-sized enterprises as well as global players, Baden-Württemberg is right at the centre of the action and is set to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of mobility.