5G in practical use


5G in practical use: Autonomous driving and transport, wireless machine networking, faster communication – The new technology is already a part of everyday life at the field testing laboratories in Aachen

Cars are driving autonomously through the city, on suburban roads and move completely independently, even when changing lanes on the freeway ramp. Small autonomous vehicles deliver goods to shops in the inner city. Machines in large production halls work without any cable connection at previously unheard-of levels of speed and safety, drastically increasing productivity. In communication, enormous amounts of data are downloaded in a fraction of the time it takes today. All that is made possible with the new 5G technology.
It may not be the norm today, but it nevertheless is already a reality: in the very specific field test laboratories in Aachen. The RWTH Aachen Campus, a unique combination of joint research centers of university institutes and industry partners, ranks among the largest 5G campus locations in Europe. With its 5G-Industry Campus Europe project funded by the federal government, Aachen counts as one of the six model regions in Germany. Aachen also is a priority area with special funding in North Rhine-Westphalia. “We succeeded in advancing our Demonstration Factory in Aachen as a 5G model factory. A measure that is supported personally by Minister Andreas Pinkwart. His aim is to develop NRW into a flagship location for 5G”, explains Professor Volker Stich, Head of the Smart Logistics Cluster and Director of the Research Institute for Rationalization (FIR), a partner of the 5G-Industry Campus Europe project.
“Research must result in innovation.” This short sentence perfectly describes the philosophy of RWTH Aachen Campus. Dr. Klaus Feuerborn, Managing Director of RWTH Aachen Campus GmbH, sees the campus as being in a leadership position with this strategy and proclaims a corresponding confidence. “We need to apply our research findings if we want to generate innovation. We have been doing just that very well in the past and will be building on that with 5G in the future.” He shares the view that research and teaching and not product development are the primary tasks of the university, but: “There are always some gray areas. Universities must carry their research results up to a certain threshold.” The e.GO Life electric car is a perfect example. “No other university in Germany has ever achieved as much.”

Niels König, Department Head Production Metrology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, also keeps an eye on this specific objective. “We don’t develop any products. We do believe, however, that in collaboration with industry – and that is exactly what we do – we have a good basis for the development and testing of new products.” On campus, 5G is within reach.

The 4G Model Factory, which was developed by the Center Connected Industry, is located at the Demonstration Factory of the Smart Logistics Cluster on Campus Melaten. “For us, the Demonstration Factory is often the first point of call for a solution”, says Christian Maasem. He heads up the Center Connected Industry, which utilizes the unique test environment in Aachen alongside enrolled members and partners from research and industry. “We have a perfect production environment here, which we can influence to its fullest – it is a landscape of sensor systems and communication technologies with a depth and connectivity that is likely unique anywhere in the world. And that often even with the latest versions before they get to market.”
Demonstrationsfabrik Aachen


The Demonstration Factory can also be used by small companies. “Basically, anyone can come to have a look and take a tour with us”, offers Christian Maasem. The center is currently developing services for just that purpose, often involving FIR, which supports the center with the development of relevant business models.
5G is a gigantic opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses. “This new wireless standard is definitely a key technology. The important question is: Where are its many potential uses? Where can they be touched, felt, tasted, smelled and tested?” is Volker Stich’s rhetorical question. The professor is Head of the Smart Logistics Cluster. “It is our job to make new technology and new potential on the market accessible for the industry, so that they can be used in concrete scenarios. I will need machine feedback in milliseconds if I want to mill, turn or drill at high speeds. These are so-called latencies, or response time behavior. And if I have an autonomous system, let’s say autonomous vehicles, the issue is initially the same. I might not necessarily need latency in milliseconds, but I will need reliable feedback. That is the beauty of 5G.” Volker Stich sees his work as the “interface point between industry and research. Our task is to implement practical applications.“
There is an autonomous robot at the Demonstration Factory, which is controlled via the IT systems and drives all across the factory without anyone having to look after it. Volker Stich: “It does have the annoying habit of moving extremely slowly, so as not to injure anyone. That is where we are today. We will now gibe the robot sensor points to let it know that someone is approaching the path of the robotic vehicle from the left. The vehicle should therefore immediately reduce its speed. Should that someone turn and leave, the vehicle could then increase its speed.”
Personnel safety plays an important role in warehouse logistics with poorly visible intersections and high storage racks. Intensive testing is being carried out in Aachen on this topic to determine which sensor technology is needed so that it is actually possible to look “around the corner”. A combination of safety infrastructure sensor technology, safe data transmission via 5G and data fusion may be the answer. The aim is to prevent critical situations and at the same time increase the efficiency of the transport process.
Antenne Innenbereiche Ericsson CCI


Deutsche Telekom/T-Systems



What will get better with 5G? Christian Maasem: “5G allows the capture of enormous amounts of sensor data from transport vehicles and infrastructure in realtime, which is then evaluated close-by – using so-called Edge Computing. Previously, transport vehicles in production and logistics often had to travel at severely limited max. speeds to avoid collisions. With 5G, vehicles can operate with significantly more efficiency and smarter at the same or a higher level of safety. 5G technology makes realtime a reality. It can assess the data directly on site and transmit the result to ensure a control or brake command is issued without any damages occurring. Other technologies, says Maasem, are not reliable enough.
Automated and autonomous driving offer the possibility of safe and comfortable mobility. Researchers in Aachen are confident. And with 5G it will become even safer, as the data rates are increased and latency times are minimized. For Timo Woopen and Laurent Klöker from the Institute for Automotive Engineering, this is an exciting challenge and a threefold one. There are test routes and structures in three different environments: Urban, suburban and freeway. Aachen leads the way: initially with 46 urban infrastructure metering stations mounted on existing pole-top lights along a 2.4 km circuit on Campus Melaten along Campus Boulevard, Forckenbeckstraße and Seffenter Weg. On the B56 near Aldenhoven Test Center and along the A44 at Jackerath junction, eleven new infrastructure metering stations each are under construction along a one-kilometer route. New poles are being erected along the side of the road to accommodate the sensor technology. Laurent Klöker: “They will allow us to record various data in a range of traffic situations.”
Automatisierte Multiobjekterkennung und -klassifizierung


Automated multi-object detection and classification
More than eleven million euros are being made available for the project “Korridor für neue Mobilität Aachen – Düsseldorf (ACCorD)” until the end of September 2021; the federal government’s share is 9.57 million (Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport). “We were able to start in Aachen by the end of June”, says Laurent Klöker. The suburban and freeway projects are expected to take two more months before testing can begin.

The vehicles that are being tested always have a backup driver on board. Our main concern there is the testing of subfunctions and not a completely automates vehicle guidance. We will look at, for example, lane changes on the freeway involving a slip road. Timo Woopen: “We are still a long way off using testing fields like these without a backup driver.”

The actual problem isn’t as much the actual autonomous vehicles, but rather those with regular drivers in mixed traffic. Timo Woopen: “It will surely work fine if there are only robots dealing with each other. We have seen that in automated factories. A human would actually be a distraction factor in that scenario. The research priority right now is that the systems can be added to mixed traffic and not become an obstacle like the current shuttle concepts that operate in low speed ranges at around 15 km/h. For German motorists, it would be more of a traffic obstacle than a meaningful addition.”
autonomes fahren


When will the product be market-ready? The researchers cannot say much about a time frame yet. But there’s this: “There are some initial use cases like automated shuttles”, says Timo Woopen. “But they only drive on specific, pre-defined routes and simply stop when they encounter an obstacle. We can most definitely expect more sophisticated shuttle applications within the next five to ten years. It would be different with a taxi, which would move all over the city. That’s where things get a lot more complex. Unfortunately, we will, have to wait a while longer for that.”

Is Germany an innovative location in terms of mobility? “Germany definitely is a place, where a lot of innovative things happen”, says Laurent Klöker, but then he qualifies: “We cannot compare with the US, because the means available there are in an entirely different league.” Nevertheless, he feels that Germany is on the right track in terms of the mobility revolution. Timo Woopen adds a positive mention of the cooperation of German universities as part of the joint project UNICARagil involving eight German universities and eight industrial partners. When it comes to automated driving, a highly complex topic, the field is a lot closer together.

With the 5G research initiative of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, six special allocation decisions were issued to research institutions and universities in 2019. One of the special allocations went to the 5G-Industry Campus Europe initiative. That makes Aachen one of the six 5G model regions selected by the Federal Ministry.

In spring of 2020, the RWTH Aachen University IT Center was commissioned by the university’s management to coordinate the development and implementation of 5G technology at RWTH Aachen. The IT Center manages the frequency range and is currently working on the integration of various research initiatives into the new mobile technology at Campus Melaten. Future plans include the requisition of further frequencies by the IT Center for additional areas as the need arises. These will then be used for specific buildings or for green areas.

Campus GmbH/Steindl

The current 5G network infrastructure on Campus Melaten includes indoor mobile networks (for e.g. machine facilities, logistics centers, demo factories), as well as outdoor mobile networks (e.g. for mobile applications, robotics and production chains across multiple locations).

Use cases and research projects that go far beyond previous LTE capabilities are realized as part of the three application profiles:

  • Very high data rates, Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). In eMBB, high data transmission rates are needed for applications like the transmission of 3D or 4K video streams, as well as for virtual reality for machine-based object and image recognition. eMBB represents significantly higher bandwidths than those known today in mobile communications, and allows the transmission of a variety of high-resolution image and video data in realtime.
  • High number of connected devices, Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) comprises applications in which the number of transmitted devices per area is particularly high and the demands on the capacity of a radio cell are therefore also particularly high (production systems or warehousing and logistics applications in which products share pallets, machines, vehicles and other items concurrently).
  • Very short latency times. Ultra-reliable and Low Latency Communication (uRLLC) comprises applications that place highest demands on connection speed and reliability (autonomous driving, telemedicine).
Turning, milling, drilling – Niels König of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT clarifies: “We want to introduce 5G into machine halls and their various processes.” The main topic here is the economic efficiency of a business. “Every company is continuously looking for ways to keep productivity as high as possible. In doing so, it inevitably faces physical limits, and that’s where where 5G offers new opportunities.”
Wireless sensors would bring the measurements exactly to the places that, as he puts it, “hurt”. 5G will allow much faster responses than before, for example, a milling tool breaks. 5G, with latency times in the millisecond range, ensures extremely low response times that were unreachable with other wireless technologies in the past. The core challenge is to reliably and safely control and regulate highly dynamic production systems. The Fraunhofer IPT is developing a continuous real-time communication infrastructure based on 5G and Time Sensitive Networking alongside its partners from the areas of mechanical engineering, network technology and robotics.
5G-basierter Sensor für die kabellose Prozessüberwachung in der Zerspanung

Paperplane Productions

The complexity of the testing possibilities, the cooperation partners on campus and in the industry put Aachen with its 5G-Industry Campus Europe in the leadership position. Bringing together research and industry: 5G with its possibilities is an excellent example. According to Niels König, entirely in line with the campus idea of “hand in hand with the industry.” And names a successful example: One very strong example is Ericsson in Herzogenrath, our partner from the very beginning. Our collaboration is a privilege we have right here in Aachen.”

By loading the video, you agree to YouTube's privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video

And why should even small businesses invest in 5G? Volker Stich of FIR: “Because 5G will help realize a significant increase in productivity. Currently, the utilization of our production facilities is only 50 percent on average. Not because we can’t do any better, but because we don’t know any better and because we don’t have any realtime feedback. When a machine fails, we need a relatively long time until it becomes apparent in the production planning system that the machine has actually failed. And after that, we need even more time to find out why it failed. On top of that is the so-called decision latency, meaning the things we need to do and the time needed, until the needed replacement part arrives and can be installed. If we had 5G, then I could predict the breakdown of the machine, order the replacement part and repair it immediately when it does fail.“

Stich summarizes the opportunities arising from the close connection between research and industry in Aachen with optimism and confidence: Right now, Aachen is the biggest continuous 5G campus location in Europe. Our advantage is the fact that the big players Ericsson, Telekom and Vodafone are already enrolled members on RWTH Aachen Campus. Which proves: We have an impact beyond Aachen’s city limits, which we don’t even realize sometimes in our day-to-day business.“

You want to know more about “5G in practical use”?
Campus-Talk #2

Interviews and more information on the topic of 5G at RWTH Aachen Campus: