As if by magic
© HOCH ZWEI/Thomas Suer
November 2021

As if by magic

By Björn Carstens
An electric race car without a driver barreling down the track and a car sharing provider steering its automobiles from an office. These are two projects that in the fall of 2021 stand for mobility of the future, marking two further steps toward making autonomous mobility a reality. How does the technology work?

Many of us are familiar with remote-controlled cars only from kids’ rooms. They’re mini racers operated by means of controllers. The DTM, Schaeffler and other partners have reimagined them on a larger scale – and for traveling at really high speeds. A remote-controlled XXL-size race car. Motorsport as an innovation lab. That’s what fans got to watch as part of the supporting program of the 2021 DTM race at Spielberg, Austria. A car equipped with Space Drive drive-by-wire technology developed by Schaeffer, a redundant electronic interface for operating the steering system, gas and brake pedals, was barreling down the 4,000-meter (2.5-mile) circuit in Styria without a driver at the wheel, but driven from a seat in a state-of-the-art driving simulator.

As if by magic
The DTM race car is equipped with drive-by-wire technology developed by Schaeffler© HOCH ZWEI/Thomas Suer
  • 1,200 hp
    That’s the power output of the fully electric DTM Electric Demo Car that Schaeffler previously presented in 2020 at the DTM round at the Hockenheimring. Then still with a driver at the wheel.
  • 180 km/h (111.9 mph)
    was the top speed of the driverless race car.
  • 82 kilometers (51 miles)
    away from the race track, in Graz: that’s where the driving simulator was located.

5G technology ensured stable control of the car. Vehicle dynamics simulation software and software for tele-operated driving, camera systems and sensors made for realistic handling.  Michael Resl, Director Competition & Technology of ITR, the DTM’s umbrella organization, explains: “We take a car, a simulator and a driver. The rest is to ensure the best possible connection by glass fiber, 5G and radio signals, and to reduce the challenges posed by latency.” The reduction of latency during data transmission to a level enabling remote control of race cars required state-of-the-art wireless technologies. At a speed of 180 km/h (111.9 mph), even 20 milliseconds of connection latency correspond to the car having traveled a distance of one meter (3.3 feet).

This project will be transferred onto the road and into logistics. Exactly that is why we are here, to be creative, to be innovative, to be pioneers on track.

Matthias Zink, CEO Automotive Technologies, Schaeffler AG
Looking at three monitors instead of through a windshield

What Schaeffler and its partners have successfully tested in the high-speed arena obviously works at a more leisurely pace as well. Not on the race track in that case, but in everyday settings. That, at least, is the plan in Hamburg. Starting in early 2022, the Hanseatic city is going to venture the world’s first project of integrating real tele-driving into urban transportation. Together with Vay, a Berlin-based tech start-up, the city intends to offer a novel mobility service without a driver in the car, at least some of the time. After having been ordered by means of an app, fully electric sharing cars are supposed to travel precisely to the client’s location. As if by magic.

Instead of behind the wheel, specially trained, certified tele-drivers from Vay will be sitting in front of three monitors in an office, keeping an eye on traffic by means of mobile communications and cameras. They’ll steer the car to the client’s location completely on its own – without any human backup inside. When the client gets into the car, he or she will take charge. At the end of the client’s trip, the office-bound tele-drivers will resume control of the vehicle and drive it to the next client’s location. This eliminates the tedious and often inefficient search for parking places. Service personnel will recharge the cars’ batteries, like in the case of other carsharing providers.

  • This is how the tele-drivers in the office observe road traffic
    This is how the tele-drivers in the office observe road traffic © Vay
  • All-round view on three monitors
    All-round view on three monitors © Vay
  • Controlled from the office
    Controlled from the office © Vay
  • Vehicles from Vay undergoing operation testing in Berlin
    Vehicles from Vay undergoing operation testing in Berlin © Vay
Approval is imminent

The system is equipped with end-to-end redundancies, according to company information. It also uses several 4G mobile communications networks ensuring the safety of the service and that of other traffic participants at all times, says Vay. For two years, the cars have been traveling the streets of Berlin in test operations – albeit still with a safety driver in the seat there. And Vay will presumably start its operation in Hamburg, in the test area of Bergedorf, a district on the outskirts of Hamburg, with a driver at the wheel as well. However, the actual objective, says Dennis Krämer, the press spokesman of the Hamburg Transportation Authority, is for Vay to be operating without drivers in Bergedorf in 2022. The approval process, he adds, is on a promising track.

Tele-driving, Vay admits, is a transitional technology – one in which humans and machines collaborate. While completely autonomous driving is the goal, a few more years will pass before computers will be taking full control, according to the company.

This is how Tele-Driving works in the area of Shared Mobility