Engineering autonomous mobility solutions requires new approaches to developing urban spaces

Even if it is unclear how much time it will take to introduce transportation options that are genuinely autonomous, under some scenarios progressive autonomization will result in the introduction of completely new driving systems. How will this change usage behavior and the density and design of urban spaces, as autonomous cars enter more and more areas of modern life? To look more closely into this complex area, the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Technology Promotion & Project Financing has joined forces with the Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute, urban planners from Green City Experience, and a variety of municipal stakeholders. Together, they want to explore the opportunities created by automated vehicles in the area of parking, loading vehicles, sharing vehicles, and logistics – while also minimizing the potential risks posed when experimenting in a public space.

Imagine no longer having to focus on tasks associated with driving while traveling in a vehicle – time takes on a completely new meaning. It could even cause people to re-evaluate where they choose to live, since long commutes would no longer be considered a bad thing. But whether it’s a regenerative or a hypermobile city, whenever a new vision comes along it creates insecurity and leaves plenty to the imagination in terms of what might happen next.

Municipal stakeholders working in transportation and urban planning currently lack important information to make a move or take decisions regarding the types of autonomous vehicles that will catch on, both in the medium and long term. For the municipal and regional stakeholders of politics, public administration, transportation, and the real estate industry, certainty is a crucial ingredient when it comes to planning. This is especially the case when adapting transportation infrastructures and planning housing, which involves a long-term approach, also taking regulations and funding into account.

The experts from Steinbeis are planning a real-world laboratory called GreenCityLab in collaboration with their project partners. The idea is to try out highly automated and autonomous concepts in the fields of mobility and logistics in an actual downtown area of a city. Ideally, they will use the Schwanthalerhöhe district of Munich for the GreenCityLab. Roughly 30,000 people live in the area.

What’s innovative about the approach with this experimental area is that before testing the highly automated and autonomous system as a finished solution, the experts conduct a participation and feedback program using virtual reality. This allows stakeholders’ explicit expectations of the future to be used as a basis for planning. The process makes it possible to ensure that product development and testing of the product in the GreenCityLab focuses more closely on key issues. It also makes estimating the market potential of innovative mobility solutions much more specific, because a real-world laboratory is a test site and test market in one.

This gives municipal stakeholders a reliable foundation for assessing the nature and timing of any influences autonomous driving may have on the planning of parking lots, cycle tracks, crossroads, sidewalks, interchanges, etc., and this enables them to be better prepared.

Two key instruments in securing the success of the GreenCityLab initiative are gaining higher acceptance for the new solutions (based on an interdisciplinary process using virtual reality) and setting up an open platform for a multithematic, inter- and multimodular mobility system.

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Development of the GreenCityLab is based on a method called co-creation. This involves both stakeholders and decision-makers, spanning three phases: co-design, co-production and co-evaluation. For the first phase, the GreenCityLab is developed based on stakeholder participation (co-design). Working with local residents, different scenarios are developed, which can then be brought to life using innovative methods from the field of VR. This gives a good impression of what each scenario could look like in reality. To decide which potential option should be implemented, a working group of experts is involved and it is especially important to talk to affected stakeholders to allow their needs, wishes, and expectations to flow directly into the implementation phase. By involving different parties in concept development and discussing issues using detailed models of future scenarios based on images, the debate regarding urban development and transportation planning shifts away from planning based on ideologies, theories, and abstractions. Instead concept planning becomes an integrated approach aimed at finding solutions based on open outcomes, citizen participation, fairness, democracy, transparency, and sustainability – driven by innovative thinking in a business-friendly manner.

Once different scenarios have been programmed into the system, these can be “experienced” directly on location using a VR headset. For example, users can simply walk around the district. The system can be used in any location and thanks to VR technology, the process is both mobile and scalable. The VR simulation opens the door to a new approach to information sharing. Actively experiencing something in a digital space makes it possible to look at things from a whole variety of perspectives, and this creates a better understanding not just of the project itself but also of other stakeholders.

After the VR simulation, users are surveyed and probed for ideas and further questions. This creates an increasingly detailed picture of future expectations and wishes. The project team can then pull all feedback together, process it, use these insights to set priorities and, ultimately, implement specific scenarios in the GreenCityLab.


Thanks to emerging ICT (AI, 5G, blockchain), it is now possible to integrate innovative transportation technology into actual infrastructure on location. To do this, an end-to-end connected ecosystem is set up and put through its paces, involving not only key partners from industry and research but also a broad selection of pooled services, delivering benefit under different application scenarios. Users can then be allowed to try out different urban mobility options themselves on an app. This opens the door to new fields of application and business potential, and it’s important to ensure that these are translated into economically viable concepts.

Laying down open standards as a fundamental requirement not only ensures that opportunities can be exploited with respect to connected mobility solutions and urban development, but also allows any other stakeholders in the ecosystem to exchange ideas and use data provided for their services, in all areas of the system. “This enhances interoperability, enables new business models, and raises the competitiveness of all companies involved,” explains Steinbeis expert Oliver Damnik.

Data-driven services aimed at new value creation scenarios can be developed on all levels of the automation pyramid, also making it possible to control physical objects used in the urban transportation infrastructure – with processes and IT systems consistently focused on this infrastructure. By using existing platforms and combining these with functionalities offered through platforms operated by stakeholder companies and state bodies, it becomes possible to develop further solutions, resulting in an integrated ecosystem based on open internet technology.


Helmut Haimerl (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Consulting Center Technology & Project Funding (Munich)

Oliver Damnik (author)
Associated Expert
Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute (FSTI) (Stuttgart)

Rauno Andreas Fuchs (author)
Managing director
Green City Experience GmbH (München)

  • Maurer et al. (Hrsg.), Autonomes Fahren, DOI 10.1007/978-3-662-45854-9_11, © The Editors and the Authors 2015