As part of the pilot project, vehicles move independently within the logistics zones and assembly – driverless, safely and efficiently. For this, the BMW Group is cooperating with the Korean startup Seoul Robotics and the Swiss startup Embotech. BMW has selected two new upmarket models, the 7 Series and the all-electric i7, as the technology carriers to implement the project.
The AFW solution relies on two key technologies. Firstly, a sensor infrastructure is used to help locate the vehicles while detecting obstacles in the factory environment. Secondly, a motion planner sends controlled commands to the driverless cars via mobile radio.
For autonomous navigation, the cars do not use their own built-in sensors, but trajectory planning software from Embotech. This software steers, brakes, accelerates and parks the driverless vehicles. The routes are computed in real time. The technology is based on lidar recognition software from Seoul Robotics. It uses static monitoring sensors to create a digital twin of the environment, including object classification and positioning for the vehicles. There is no need for situational programming or training of the vehicles. Instead, each vehicle is able to react independently to the surrounding situation.
“We have a different approach to autonomous driving because we don’t use sensors from the vehicles. The car itself is virtually blind. Instead, we have installed sensors along the driving routes, which we use to move the cars in the plants,” says BMW project manager Sascha Andree.
The automated journeys in the plant first take place within the assembly area and then to logistics areas in the plant. This means that the finished vehicles drive themselves to a car park. From there, they are transported further by train or truck. In principle, the technology can be used as soon as the vehicles can drive themselves in the production process – i.e. shortly after the first engine start.
The collaboration between the BMW production department and the technology start-ups was orchestrated by BMW’s innovation coordinator “Startup Garage”. The venture client unit of the BMW Group discovered Seoul Robotics as a potentially interesting technology supplier and initiated the first proof-of-concept project. Later, BMW Startup Garage also brought Embotech on board for a product demonstration for the project. “Without the BMW Startup Garage, we would not have been able to have our solution evaluated and tested,” says Alexander Domahidi, co-founder and CTO of Embotech.
The pilot phase began in June 2022 and extends over a period of several months. A further roll-out is initially planned with additional models at the Dingolfing plant. Later, the technology will also be used in other plants.