Cars of the future

In the right direction

The cars of the future will need design of the future. Find out how Fraunhofer is helping to restructure transport.

New times, new challenges – and new challengers. E-mobility pioneer Tesla, which launched on the German market in 2013 with its Model S, had reason to celebrate in October. The growth rates for Tesla vehicles registered in Germany were in the triple digits, marking an increase of 482.9 percent. German manufacturers saw a double-digit drop, with the exception of Porsche, which stayed almost stab-le at just minus 0.8 percent. Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and Audi have also taken on the challenge of e-mobility. With its research fab for battery production, in which ten Fraunhofer Institutes are involved, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is helping to expand and strengthen Germany’s position as a leader in battery manufacturing technology. And yet it will take more than that to ensure Germany maintains this position and doesn’t slip down the ranks in terms of environmental rating and reputation.

Diversity – on our roads too

The cars of the future need mobility that’s fit for the future. Dr. André Häusler has warned against closed-mindedness when it comes to mobility. The expert from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen believes that diversity in transportation will become a necessity. He envisions different drive methods coexist­ing harmoniously – depending on where cars are used and what they are used for Need to fill up in five minutes and then drive 650 kilometers? Hydrogen is best for the job. Living in a rural area where charging points are hard to come by? A hybrid model with a combustion engine and an electric motor might be the best option. “In the coming years, car manu­facturers won’t just have one drive type in their portfolio anymore,” says Dr. Häusler. “They’ll need to offer a separate solution for every need – hydrogen, electric, gas, diesel and hybrid models.”

However, that won’t be enough. It’s time to rethink mobility. “When it comes to further developing vehicles, transportation systems and technologies, we need to focus much more strongly on solving specific problems and tasks, and less on developing existing technologies further,” states Sebastian Stegmüller of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO in Stuttgart. Stegmüller is Head of the Mobility and Innovation Systems research unit. Together with his team, he tries to distinguish solid, future-oriented innova­tions from short-lived hypes.



Sebastian Stegmüller from Fraunhofer IAO
© Heinz Heiss
Sebastian Stegmüller believes that if technology does the work, the driver will become more of a passenger and will also be able to enjoy entertainment on monitors. Within his research area at Fraunhofer IAO, he wants to focus more on new solutions and less on developing existing technologies further.

Slimming down for the future

Regard­less of the drive type, one simple rule applies. The lighter the vehicle, the lower its energy consumption can be. This is especially true of electric cars, as their heavy battery modules can be problematic when it comes to range. Fraunhofer ILT has developed a welding process based on lasers, whereby high-strength steel can be welded seamlessly and precisely, even in very small spaces. The steel is therefore thinner and lighter, but doesn’t lose any of its strength. “We’re working on a process in which metal and plastic are welded together. This can be used to manufacture load-bearing components that no longer require connecting elements. That makes them even more lightweight,” explains Dr. Häusler, head of the Micro Welding team.

Dr. Häusler and his team also demon­strate the potential of innovative welding techniques for hydrogen-powered vehicles. Fuel cells are designed for use in trucks, transistors and other commercial vehicles. The high-speed welding process developed at Fraunhofer ILT can be used for tasks such as joining the 200 bipolar plates required for each fuel cell, with a heli­um-tight join of 1.4-meters in length for each plate. And it does so faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively than traditional welding technology.

Dr. André Häusler from Fraunhofer ILT
© Heinz Heiss
Vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. As mobility changes, Dr. André Häusler from Fraunhofer ILT sees an opportunity for more diversity on our roads – even if he doesn’t believe that every kind of car has the same potential for every purpose. His institute is working to make cars more lightweight using laser-based welding processes. It’s far from child’s play – unlike the little steam-curved wooden cars that pop up in the photos on the next few pages.

Lightweight, sustainable and safe − this is what drives the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-In­stitut WKI. Scientists at the institute have been working with their partners HOBUM Oleochemicals GmbH and Porsche Motor­sport to develop the “Bioconcept-Car” for the Four Motors racing team. The Fraun­hofer WKI experts use the natural fiber flax as a substitute for the expensive carbon used wherever extreme strength is required in the racing world. The flax is processed into a textile-like fabric and then coated with a bio-based epoxy resin. The researchers procure the flax fabric from a supplier. This vibration-absorbing material can be used where the strength of carbon is not necessary, e.g. in the door area, seat suspension or roof lining. “Our project proves that natural fiber-reinforced plas­tics actually work, even under high stress,” explains Fraunhofer WKI expert Ole Hansen. There are also environmental advantages, as the flax plant binds CO2 and is grown in the region, which saves on long supply routes/lengthy shipping distances.

Bioconcept-Car: Sustainable lightweight bodywork as a building block for climate-neutral mobility

Compact and connected

As a rule, “cars don’t just need new tech­nology − they also need new concepts. They need to become more compact and be connected with other forms of trans­portation through smart technology,” says Monika Beck, who is responsible for Tech­nology Transfer − Wireless Microsystems at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS in Dresden. Electron­ics will play a crucial role in integrating cars into future transportation systems. Vehicles are already packed full of ECUs (electronic control units). These ECUs control areas that are critical for safety, such as the engine, gear shift, accelerator and brakes. A modern car will contain between 30 and 150 of these units work­ing together, and all are equipped with processors. However, in terms of supply, the automotive industry is dependent on a small number of manufacturers, but their processors are often too large for certain specific purposes. This is where Fraunhofer IPMS comes in. The institute has developed an IP core based on the open RISC-V architecture, which can be individually customized. “The biggest strengths of the open RISC-V architecture are its modularity and expandability. It enables us to design customized proces­sors,” Beck explains.

However, the RISC-V processor also offers another very significant new feature. As the first processor designed for use in cars, it is also available as a safety variant. In this variant, the design is pre-certified as ASIL D ready in accordance with ISO 26262. This standard regulates the devel­opment of electronic systems for safety in vehicles, such as certain data streams that are designed to be redundant or predefined actions that are initiated after a component fails. A suitable processor can be used in safety-critical functions such as sensors to make them stable and failsafe. Self-driv­ing cars in particular must have completely reliable sensor systems.

Connection with the outside world and rapid evaluation of data are crucial for these sensor systems. But the vehicles can’t complete all these tasks themselves, as they only have limited computing power avail­able. This is where edge computing, 5G and V2X wireless connections (Vehicle-to-X) play an important role (see article on pg. 46). Using additional sensors on the roads to support the vehicle’ own sensors is also vital for self-driving cars. For example, from an elevated position such as a street­light, cameras, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanners and radar could mon­itor hazardous locations such as intersec­tions or specific sections of road. The system collects the incoming data and transmits it via 5G to a nearby edge cloud system, which analyzes the data using AI. This forms a picture of all the road users, including their individual speeds and distance from one another. The system analyzes the traffic conditions using deep learning, transmits them back to the vehi­cles using 5G and detects dangerous situ­ations. If, for example, a non-autonomous car is on a collision course with an auton­omous vehicle, the edge cloud system will detect the danger. It will send a warning via 5G to the self-driving vehicle, which can autonomously correct its course or perform an emergency stop. This all happens practically in real time.

The only information collected on the vehicles is their vehicle category, position and speed. No information on the owner or number plate is transmitted. It may also be possible to create solutions that don’t use any cameras at all and instead work with LiDAR or radar technology. In this kind of smart traffic-monitoring system, it would be feasible to have smart traffic lights that switch intelligently depending on the traffic and, in addition to the visual displays, send their traffic light signals to road users via highly reliable 5G wireless network.

Such systems are currently still in development. Fraunhofer researchers are working hard in field trials to make this vision a reality. They include researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecom­munications, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut and HHI in Berlin. “We’re working on further developing cameras, lasers for LiDAR scanners and AI for radar, for use in traffic monitoring, for example. So basically we’re working on all types of sensors that are used to identify and locate objects. We’re further optimizing wireless technologies such as 5G and we’re already working on 6G concepts, which will also enable us to reliably transfer vast amounts of data, in real time. We’ve even set up a new AI department at the institute to perform smart analyses and further process raw data,” explains Dr. Tristan Visentin, Inno­vation Manager at Fraunhofer HHI. Digitalized traffic control integrates cars, bikes, e-scooters and pedestrians into a comprehensive mobility solution. “The car of the future will be part of a holistic mobility solution and integrated into a complex transportation system,” confirms Prof. Uwe Clausen, Chair of the Fraunhofer Traffic and Transportation Alliance.

Dr. Tristan Visentin from Fraunhofer HHI
© Heinz Heiss
Ensuring greater safety in transportation is one of the major issues of the future. Dr. Tristan Visentin from Fraunhofer HHI works as an innovation manager, developing all kinds of sensors to identify and locate objects.

What about often neglected rural areas?

The more options available, the more complex mobility becomes for passen­gers. Dr. Karina Villela, project manager for Digital Innovation Design at the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiser­slautern, is addressing this issue. To solve the problem, she has created a mobility platform as part of the Smart MaaS (Mobility as a Service) project, in collaboration with partners Fiware, Cleopa, DFKI and better mobility. All providers can post their services on the B2B platform, whether for mobility, infor­mation or otherwise. This includes taxi operators, shuttle bus operators, e-bike rental companies, public transportation or car sharing providers, hotels or provid­ers of tourist information. This ecosystem brings all stakeholders together on one marketplace − services, information providers and intermediaries.

Smart Maas project (Smart mobility platform in cities)

All this information is evaluated by a mobility broker. If a customer is looking for the best route for a particular journey, the broker immediately generates a suitable itinerary, including the best means of transportation and transfer options. “Cus­tomers can also specify in their inquiry whether they need their trip to be partic­ularly low-cost, comfortable or fast. This enables stress-free door-to-door mobility for passengers,” says Villela. She sees Smart MaaS as an opportunity for startups or small businesses with specialist services to promote themselves on the platform.

As part of his KomMaaS project, Mat­thias Koch, senior requirements engineer at Fraunhofer IESE in Kaiserslautern, is concentrating on rural areas. Here, there are too few options for transportation, rather than too many. The basic idea is to make these few options more accessible and interconnected. That way, public buses could travel through small villages and help people without a car to get mobile. Together with partners, the team led by Koch has developed a suitable web appli­cation. If someone needs transportation, they first call the regional public bus service and tell them where they want to go. Alternatively, they can use a smart­phone app to indicate their need. The public bus planning team receives this request through the application, and plans accordingly. Providers can now optimally combine individual journeys to specific passengers into a complete route. In turn, the display unit in the public bus shows the driver where passengers are to be picked up or dropped off. In later stages of the planned development, anyone with a private car who is planning a trip to a nearby city will be able to offer other travelers a ride via KomMaaS.

KomMaaS project (Mobility as a Service for municipalities)

Koch and his team developed the web application with a focus on simple and efficient functionality. “We want to increase mobility for people who don’t have their own cars, and improve vehicle utilization at the same time. There’s always a social aspect to mobility and transportation, too. When developing networked mobility solutions, we mustn’t forget that,” says Koch. The public bus trips have already gone through practical testing. Meanwhile, some districts in Rhineland-Palatinate have become the first to signal their interest. All these solutions have one thing in com­mon: people don’t necessarily drive their own cars anymore, but rather choose the option that suits them best at a particular moment.

According to the Fraunhofer research­ers, the car isn’t going to lose its special status. Sebastian Stegmüller believes there are emotional factors at play here. “Mobil­ity is about more than the proverbial concept of getting from A to B. When it comes to cars, there are factors that go beyond the purely objective.” Rather than holding less weight in the future, comfort, features and personal space will actually be more important. This opens up huge opportunities for car manufacturer to produce really innovative new solutions.” Fraunhofer researchers have already pre­sented a study for this strategy for the future, named Vision PI. The passenger cell is designed based on a shell principle and can be flexibly adapted to the individual needs of the passengers. During the day or while commuting in the morning, the passenger cell can serve as a mobile office for working and for video conferences, for example. The vehicle’s HMI (human-ma­chine interface) technologies connect seamlessly with devices such as tablets or headphones, thus enabling an integrated media experience. The route is selected and adapted automatically according to crite­ria such as network availability, traffic volumes and upcoming appointments. In the evening, in preparation for a relaxing drive home after work, the passenger cell transforms into a relaxation room with darkened windows and wellness features that appeal to all the senses. The use of high-quality materials increases the feel-good factor − think cozy lounge ambiance, rather than the more austere feeling of a cockpit. “While it’s horsepower we care about today, in the future we’ll be looking for equipment that can be personalized depending on the context, and high-qual­ity haptic features built into the car’s interior,” Stegmüller believes.

“Vision PI” – Sustainable Mobility Concept of the Future with a Touch of Lifestyle (Research News / November 17, 2020)

“There’s a social aspect to mobility and transportation, too!“   

If basic requirements are met such as compliance with social standards in regard to manufacturing, environmental sustainability and safety, there is nothing to prevent cars from remaining personal consumer goods. Prof. Michael Lauster, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Technological Trend Analysis INT is optimistic, in any case. “Cars have a long, bright future ahead of them. They continue to be one of the building blocks of individual mobility. However, with the trend toward using rather than owning, cars will serve as status symbols for only the rare few.”


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