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German aerospace agency develops autonomous van

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The U-Shift can be configured as an on-demand shuttle, a high-tech on-call bus, a versatile distribution centre for goods and parcels, or as a mobile sales vehicle.

The €12m research consortium led by DLR showed its first operable prototype at the Interim Conference of the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Sector in Baden-Württemberg.

The van-sized prototype uses capsule-shaped structures for transporting people or goods. The U-shaped drive unit contains all of the components and systems needed for autonomous, electric and quiet travel and is designed to operate round the clock. Capsules, which are much more economical to manufacture, sit on top for a variety of purposes.

“We want to make tomorrow’s mobility more sustainable, effective and convenient,” said Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut from the Baden-Württemberg Minister for Economic Affairs which funded the project. “Entirely new products and business models can emerge from futuristic innovations such as the U-Shift vehicle concept. It is essential that we support our small and medium-sized enterprises in Baden-Württemberg during the automotive industry’s transformation process and help them find a new role in the field of future vehicle concepts and mobility solutions. The modular approach opens up a lot of opportunities in this area.”

“With the modular U-Shift concept, we are taking significant steps towards the mobility transformation,” said Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport. “Prototypes are extremely important, especially for the adoption of innovative concepts by the automotive industry, or logistics and mobility service providers. They allow researchers and future users to truly experience and help to improve the mobile world of tomorrow.”

The driveboard is currently remote-controlled and will in future be able to travel completely autonomously. The passenger capsule has seven seats, as well as an extra folding seat. A large door with an integrated ramp ensures barrier-free access. The cargo capsule has space for four Euro pallets or eight barred rolling cabinets.

With the help of the prototype, researchers are hoping to acquire initial experience in using the system that picks up and sets down the capsules and are in close talks with potential manufacturers and operators.

A second, fully automated prototype capable of reaching speeds up to approximately 60 kilometres per hour is planned for 2024.

As part of the project, the DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts has partnered with the Stuttgart Research Institute of Automotive Engineering and Vehicle Engines (FKFS), which is developing the drive train, and the Institute of Vehicle System Technology (FAST) and Institute for Information Processing Technology (ITIV) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), which have contributed the chassis and the electrical and electronic architecture. The Institute of Measurement, Control and Microtechnology (MRM) at Ulm University is responsible for the automation.

www.dlr.de

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