21. July 2021

Interview with Timo Woopen and Laurent Klöker | Institute for Automotive Engineering (ika) at RWTH Aachen about automated and autonomous driving with 5G

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 (i.e. response times) are minimized. For Timo Woopen and Laurent Klöker from the Institute for Automotive Engineering (ika) at RWTH Aachen University, this is a challenge that is as demanding as it is exciting. It becomes immediately clear in the interview that they are fully focused on their task with plenty of energy and competence. Their work on campus is an important part of innovative technology and the mobility revolution.
And it really is a challenge – a threefold one. There are test routes and structures in three different environments: Urban, suburban and freeway. Aachen leads the way with 46 urban infrastructure metering stations mounted on existing pole-top lights along a 2.4 km circuit 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.”
ika_ACCorD-Uebersicht-2 Autonomous driving with 5G

ika

The planning costs for the project are high. More than eleven million euros are being made available until the end of September 2021; the federal government’s share is 9.57 million. “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.
Automatisierte-Multiobjekterkennung-und-klassifizierungёhdv-mess Autonomous driving with 5G

ika

Automated multi-object detection and classification
5G is a new dimension. Safety-relevant notifications in vehicle communication will be exchanged much faster with the lower latency. Klöker: “5G basically means real-time.” Communication will take milliseconds, which means the vehicle can respond to critical situations much earlier. Another plus on top of the speed: much more data can be exchanged.
How safe is autonomous driving? Many traffic users remain skeptical. Timo Woopen: “Safety is the most important issue for consumers. They want safety, efficiency and comfort. And they want to know when the product will be market-ready.” To date, researchers can say little about timing. But there’s this: “There are some initial use cases like automated shuttles”, says Timo Woopen. “But they only drive specific routes. It would be different with a taxi, which would move all over the city. That’s where things get a lot more complex.” The security benefits of 5G will be tested intensely on campus. The topic of communication between vehicles, taking into account poorly visible intersections in the city, plays a major role. Timo Woopen: “Communication via 5G will increase efficiency, because the autonomous vehicle won’t have to travel extremely slowly anymore. The vehicle will have situational information faster and will be able to respond accordingly.“
Sicherheit_ika Autonomous driving with 5G

ika

The vehicles that are testing on the suburban road and the freeway will, of course, always have a backup driver on board. The main concern there is the testing of subfunctions and not a completely automated vehicle control. For example, an automated lane change is tested 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.”
automated-driving Autonomous driving with 5G

ika

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. In our research, we are now working on how systems can add benefit to mixed traffic and not become an obstacle like the current shuttle concepts that operate in low speed ranges at around 15 km/h. Imagine that on a suburban road. For German motorists, it would be more of a traffic obstacle than a meaningful addition.”
What could the City of Aachen do? Would a small route with only autonomous vehicles make sense? Researchers want more than just having autonomous vehicles traveling on basically closed routes. Timo Woopen: “We don’t want to build a vehicle that would travel at too low speeds. That is not how we understand mobility. We need to think one step further. In our ACCorD project, we capture data needed for safety assurance.” An initial project for the city might definitely be possible, but it would remain to be seen if there really was a benefit in riding shuttles around Aachen.
The research on RWTH Aachen Campus is, without a doubt, a great contribution to the mobility revolution. Timo Woopen stresses this point: “We want to contribute to having autonomous vehicles traveling safely, conveniently and efficiently in the future. We are not looking at what we can do in two or three years. We are thinking further into the future.”

The project is scheduled for completion on December 31 of this year. What comes next? Under no circumstances will the sensors be taken down, the test fields are definitely to remain in place, Klöker and Woopen explain. The plan is to build on the work done with various partners from research and industry over a period of several years in further projects.

Is Germany a particularly innovative location in terms of mobility? “Germany definitely is a place, where a lot of innovative things happen”, is the spontaneous response of 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 and competition of German universities as part of the joint project UNICARagil involving eight German universities and eight industrial partners. RWTH Aachen University wants to claim leadership in the field of mobility, says Woopen. When it comes to automated driving, a highly complex topic, the field is a lot closer together. “Many institutes pool all their know-how, which is generally not very common, but which is a great sign for things to come.” This topic is not about any individual person or instance”

You want to know more about “5G in practical use”?

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