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Training Camps for Autonomous Cars

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Tags: ZeroAccidents, AutonomousDriving, Connectivity, Safety

Even autonomous cars have to go to driving school. Training sites are available worldwide for this purpose, allowing the algorithms to train in peace and collect data. Then it’s off to the public roads – also initially under test conditions.
Stefan Schrahe, February 28, 2019
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Stefan Schrahe has been writing about everything four-wheeled for three decades now. In his leisure time, he enjoys traveling by bike - though he also prefers motorized ones.
Before they can prove themselves under the conditions of public roads – such as on the ZF test course in Friedrichshafen – technologies for autonomous vehicles must be tested in simulations or test facilities. A wide range of test sites is available for this purpose worldwide. Large traffic training grounds, on which aspiring drivers normally test their driving skills, are also ideal for getting self-driving cars used to traffic.

Experiences from China

Experiences from China

Chinese car sharing operator Pand Auto is already testing cars equipped with ZF Baidu technology in Beijing. The Chinese government is taking this topic very seriously, supporting the construction of large test sites and opening the first test center for autonomous vehicles in the greater Beijing area in February 2018 in the Haidian District, creating what is literally a driving school for autonomous vehicles. The 130,000-square-meter site is operated by the Beijing Innovation Center for Mobility and the Haidian Driving School. The goal is to make China the leading nation in electric cars and autonomous driving. In addition, a 55-hectare technology park will be created in the greater Beijing area, the development of which is expected to cost 13.8 billion yuan (some €1.8 billion) over the next five years.
Autonomous vehicles have also been in test operation in Singapore since the beginning of 2018. They use CETRAN , a 2-hectare facility of Nanyang Technical University (NTU) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).

Collecting Data under Real Conditions

ZF is collecting data for automated driving along a test route in Friedrichshafen - a lot of data.

M City: A simulated city on 130,000 square meters

There are a total of 12 testing grounds in the United States. The University of Michigan has even had its own simulated city in operation for four years. The 130,000 square meters of “M City” will be used to research how self-driving cars can cope with road users such as other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. The site has five miles (eight kilometers) of roads with bends, intersections, traffic lights, traffic signs, sidewalks, fake building fronts, street lamps and obstacles such as construction site barriers. The construction of this test site, which even includes a roundabout, a tunnel and a bridge, 40 building façades and roadways with a wide variety of paving materials, cost $6.5 million dollars – equivalent to around €5.6 million.
A similar approach is being pursued by CERMcity (Center for European Research on Mobility/Urban Validation Environment) of RWTH Aachen University. Since October 2018, CERMcity has been expanding a successfully established test site erected on a former mine between 2009 and 2013. When finished, it will include a street equipped with electronics, sensors and infrastructure elements.
“The algorithms of the vehicles must be trained. Testing grounds and specially designated routes are a necessary intermediate step on the way from simulation to real traffic conditions.”
— Gerhard Gumpoltsberger, Head of Innovation Management & Projects at ZF

From testing grounds to the highway

In addition, several US states have approved parts of their road networks for testing certain autonomous systems. Uncomplicated approval procedures – also facilitated by the fact that there is hardly any traffic on endless stretches of highway in Arizona and Nevada – make test fleets with several hundred vehicles possible. Many of the ongoing or planned tests are therefore taking place in the USA.
Even in Germany, there are already Test courses on public roads on which autonomous vehicles are allowed to travel. The best known is the A9 between Munich and Nuremberg, which was specially equipped with radar sensors. Since June 2017, test cars have been traveling on the autobahn in the Düsseldorf area and have even been making use of the city’s road network. The experiment “Cooperative Mobility on the Digital Testing Grounds Düsseldorf,” also supported by ZF, runs until June 2019 and costs €14.85 million. The federal government of Germany is contributing €9 million, with the rest coming from the 12 project partners.
What makes this special is that several hundred production vehicles equipped with Mobileye systems are also included in the test in addition to the test vehicles. These systems digitally map the road space. The information is already helping to detect traffic jams and prevent accidents.
But even on the designated test courses, not everyone is allowed to try out whether a technology developed in a proprietary laboratory really works. Only those who, like ZF, are in possession of a sample approval by the European authorities may test their autonomous technologies on the roads of the EU and Switzerland – and only under strict safety conditions.

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