© Testfeld Friedrichshafen


Moving closer to autonomous driving in the Lake Constance region

Autonomous driving is not an entirely new concept. Autonomous vehicles have already been used in farming, manufacturing, and dockland areas for quite some time. Logistics centers are increasingly turning to driverless vehicles. While these examples demonstrate the potential of autonomous driving on private property or restricted areas, preconditions are substantially different when it comes to driving on public roads and a lot of progress is still needed in technological, legal, and social terms. Steinbeis Enterprise IWT Wirtschaft und Technik is working in collaboration with the city council in Friedrichshafen and the company ZF Friedrichshafen AG on an initiative called the Friedrichshafen test bed. The project allows the city north of Lake Constance to assess, accompany, and move forward with the development towards autonomous driving in the public realm.

The SAE classification system describes the development towards autonomous driving on six levels. These range from fully manual vehicles driven by an actual driver, to driver assistance, semi-automation, and fully automated systems. By law, cars in Germany are only allowed to drive on public roads up to Level 2 – i.e. on a semi-automated basis with the driver always being in charge. Shifting up to full automation will require a large number of technological increments entailing comprehensive testing and simulation. Other factors such as future mobility concepts, legal frameworks, user requirements, and acceptance also have to be taken into account.

Writing mobility history in the Lake Constance region

Friedrichshafen is destined to become a city of future mobility solutions and thus a location for testing and further developing automated and connected driving. Ever since the first Zeppelin airship took to the skies over Friedrichshafen, companies by the lake have been closely involved in transportation topics. The region north of Lake Constance is home to industries along the entire transportation supply chain, from aeronautics to the automotive industry. As a result, the mobility sector is extremely important to the region to this day. As part of the Friedrichshafen test bed initiative , IWT Wirtschaft und Technik, a member of the Steinbeis Network, is looking at ways to forge networks between companies and other regional stakeholders working in the field of mobility, thus making an important contribution to the innovative power of the wider area north of Lake Constance (Bodensee-Oberschwaben).

Any change in mobility preferences brings about sweeping changes in technology, infrastructures, and related areas. It also entails a fundamental change in culture and society; in turn, this creates stronger demand for new mobility concepts. Changes in mobility are thus not a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, the entire industry has been undergoing radical change for some years now. This is clearly reflected in the issues that have arisen relating to climate protection, fuel economy, emissions, financial, and time factors as well as technical transformation due to increased interconnectedness of humans, things and devices in terms of digitization and automation. At the same time the need and demand for mobility is increasing.

Mobility should always be available to everyone. This right to mobility requires new traffic concepts, such as intermodal and multimodal transportation, the “last mile,” car sharing, carpools, etc. The increasing level of connectivity of people, technologies and infrastructures is an important factor. These changes pose both new challenges and opportunities to industries and people. For the Lake Constance region, the IWT is helping with these changes as part of a concept called “The Mobility of the Future”, spanning several projects, initiatives, and measures, one of which is its open laboratory – the “test bed for automated and connected driving in public realm,” or for short: the Friedrichshafen test bed.

The Friedrichshafen test bed: connected and automated in the public realm

The test bed has officially been registered as “digital test bed for connected and automated driving” with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) since 2018. It includes a federal highway running through the city, significant parts of downtown Friedrichshafen, and the pedestrian zone. The city council has also approved an extension to connect the university campus at Fallenbrunnen with the IWT, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW), and Zeppelin University.

The test route measures 5.5 kilometers, running through the city center with a link to route 31 federal highway (B31). The route (see Image 1) also runs past a variety of industrial zones (yellow line, launched in 2018), through the city center (blue line), through the pedestrian zone (green line), and to the university campus Fallenbrunnen (red line). The test bed thus covers different types of areas and traffic factors that are important for testing and trying out technology in public traffic – e.g. roads with different speed limits from walking pace in the pedestrian zone to 30, 50, and 80 kph zones, city roads, a federal highway, and a tunnel. The route running through Fallenbrunnen campus is also equipped with testing infrastructure provided by DHBW Ravensburg on the Friedrichshafen technology campus, thus offering companies, universities, and communities the possibility to not only to test new types of technology, but also to accelerate development.

The Friedrichshafen test bed is already equipped with roadside units (RSU) which can be used for testing purposes. These RSU are part of the signaling equipment, sending current and future traffic light phases (SPaT messages, i.e. Signal Phase and Time) and digital road topology data (MAP messages). These RSU form part of the research and testing, as is the ETSI ITS-G5 extension. The DHBW Ravensburg unit based on the Friedrichshafen technology campus also has a lab vehicle with its own RSU and onboard unit (OBU). These play an important role in vehicle communication when it comes to data exchange between vehicles moving around within the network, and they are also used as part of projects conducted with DHBW students and professors. The aim of these joint projects is to develop new concepts, to come up with innovations, and to research and try out emerging technology. A demonstration module for OBUs has been fitted onto a DHBW vehicle. Its job as the first application setup was to receive RSU signals on the Friedrichshafen test bed. In a next step, information and signals will be presented on a display panel.

Creating value by working together

The complexity of future autonomous driving – and thus the complexity of the current test bed – lies in the number of interfaces between individual systems, sets of equipment, and stakeholders. This “system of systems” requires close coordination between individual nodes within the network. Road users, infrastructures and vehicles continuously exchange data and information. Allowing vehicles to drive autonomously in the future requires real-time exchange of authenticated and reliable data.

To implement projects in practical terms, the IWT is focusing on collaboration with a variety of stakeholders from small and medium-sized enterprises to major corporations, universities, public enterprises and organizations, and others. Collaboration is open in terms of participation and the topics covered, spanning different sectors of industry and disciplines. The priority when it comes to (ongoing) development and innovation is to test, simulate, research, and develop concepts for vehicles to communicate with each other, as well as focusing on the technical infrastructure.

To identify further topics, IWT organizes meet-ups of the “connected car” working group on a regular basis, to which regional and other interested companies, researchers, developers, and scientists are invited. The research focuses on communication between different vehicles and the technical infrastructure (vehicle-to-X communication, or V2X). Issues or topics subsequently discussed and adopted in projects include applications and/or specific use cases in the context of smart infrastructure (IoT, IoE), control centers for autonomous driving, digital applications aimed at improving mobility systems, developing new mobility formats, concepts, and services, the testing and development of new technologies, cross-sector collaboration on mobility topics, and issues relating to user requirements and user acceptance. Other research topics include data models, big data analysis and linked data, and specific technological developments carried out on sensors, actuators, and microprocessors. Another important factor is how established future-ready technology is applied within the context of transportation, with topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, AR and VR, and secure and authenticated data transfer.

The Friedrichshafen test bed has deliberately been set up as an open initiative to ensure it remains accessible to business enterprises, universities, and communities. As a result, it represents an open opportunity to test, simulate, and collaborate on technology, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Openly exchanging ideas and sharing technology between universities, companies, industry, and the community plays a decisive role in innovations that will one day be part and parcel of how we will get from A to B.

Companies and universities are welcome to take part in this project. For further information, visit testfeld-friedrichshafen.de.


Celina Herbers (author)
Business unit manager, Innovation, Knowledge and Technology Transfer
IWT Wirtschaft und Technik GmbH (Friedrichshafen)

David Pietsch (author)
Innovation manager for mobility
IWT Wirtschaft und Technik GmbH (Friedrichshafen)