Volkswagen Group Research is testing automated vehicles in urban traffic in Hamburg. This is the first time Volkswagen has begun to test automated driving to Level 4 at real driving conditions in a major German city. From now, a fleet of five e-Golf, equipped with laser scanners, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and radars, will drive on a 3-km (1.9-mi) section of the digital test bed for automated and connected driving in the Hanseatic city. The results of the test drives, which will be continuously evaluated while taking full account of all data protection rules, will be incorporated in the group’s research projects on automated driving and will test customer-centric services and optimize individual transport.

Axel Heinrich, Head of Volkswagen Group Research, commented, “The tests center on technical possibilities as well as urban infrastructure requirements. In order to make driving even safer and more comfortable in future, vehicles not only have to become autonomous and more intelligent—cities must also provide a digital ecosystem that enables vehicles to communicate with traffic lights and traffic management systems as well as with one another.”

A 9-km (5.6-mi) digital test bed for automated and connected driving is currently being constructed in the city of Hamburg, with completion scheduled for 2020. To that end, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is successively upgrading traffic lights with components for infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. Volkswagen and the City of Hamburg say they are further optimizing traffic flows through digitalization and to full-size implementation of automated driving in the city area.

Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg’s Senator for Economics, Transport, and Innovation, said, “Two and a half years from now, Hamburg will be hosting the World Congress for Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Automated driving will play a key role. I am delighted that our strategic partner Volkswagen has already become the first user for our digital test bed. We will establish Hamburg as a model city for intelligent mobility and be presenting numerous innovative mobility projects to a global audience in 2021.”

The e-Golf configured by Volkswagen Group Research have eleven laser scanners, seven radars, and 14 cameras. Up to 5 GB of data are communicated per minute during the regular test drives, each of which lasts several hours. Computing power equivalent to some 15 laptops is tucked away in the trunk of the e-Golf. This computing capacity, combined with state-of-the-art sensor technology, ensures that data on pedestrians, cyclists, other cars, intersections, rights of way, parked vehicles, and lane changes in moving traffic are captured over the shortest distances and in milliseconds. Despite the diversity and complexity of the information, the artificial intelligence used in the vehicle software must register all relevant objects and respond to them without triggering any false alarms. Several different artificial intelligence approaches are used, including include deep learning, neural networks, and pattern recognition.

Specially trained test drivers will be seated behind the steering wheel during all test drives in Hamburg to constantly monitor all driving functions and intervene in an emergency. Furthermore, all data protection rules will be fully taken into account.

Volkswagen Group Research says it is collaborating with all brands and relevant Group departments to enable the functionality of automated driving on public roads. The findings of this project will be successively incorporated in further research and development initiatives. The company says its goal is to be in a position to offer customers concrete products for the automated transport of goods and passengers on public roads a few years from now.