From autonomous cars to Smart City solutions, applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) are enjoying a boom. But how do they progress from an idea to a market-ready product? Pilot projects are the key to success.
The compact 7015 shuttle bus runs silently through the streets of Bad Birnbach, Germany. That is because it is battery-powered, which is something to which locals and vacationers alike have grown accustomed. What continues to amaze them however, is that when they take a look inside the public transportation vehicle, they see six seats for passengers and none for the driver. The e-bus is driverless – thanks to IoT applications. Equipped with GPS, lasers and odometry technology it runs autonomously between three stops on a route from the thermal baths to the town center, a distance of 1.2 kilometers. A guide is on board, but he just pushes a button to start the bus, follows the route on a tablet computer and only intervenes if there is an accident or breakdown. Over 20,000 passengers have used the 7015 since the service started. “This unique ‘autonomous bus’ service is a genuine lighthouse project,” says Kurt Vallée, deputy chief executive of Germany’s Rottal-Inn district, “A clear signal for mobility in rural areas.”
Testing on a small scale what is to later function on a large scale: Many companies like Deutsche Bahn subsidiary ioki, which operates the shuttle bus route in Bad Birnbach to test the future of IoT-assisted mobility, are looking into how they can use the Internet of Things for their services and products. After all, connecting machines that run autonomously will clearly have an enormous effect on how we live and collaborate in the future, be it at the office, on the road or at home. It is also clear that converting new ideas into functioning products and services involves enormous effort and expenses. More and more companies are relying on pilot projects to limit this outlay while nevertheless gaining a realistic impression of the advantages and disadvantages.
Less than 150 kilometers away from Bad Birnbach, autonomous truck convoys have since June 2018 joined driverless cars between Munich and Nuremberg on the Digital Testbed Autobahn (DTA); opened in 2015, a 140-kilometer Autobahn section equipped with state-of-the-art radar sensors for precise real-time data on traffic flows, density or speed and linked by the G5 network for real-time car-to-car communication. That facilitates smooth interaction in machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and therefore real-time automated driving on Germany’s A9 Autobahn without other road users being aware of the fact. Companies and research institutions can use this Autobahn section to test connected driving and its effects on security, efficiency and fuel consumption in real-time trials. A specially trained driver sits at the wheel of the first vehicle, but the others are driverless, controlled by connected on-board computers. “It’s not just about using a technology; it’s about incorporating it meaningfully into the entire logistics chain,” says MAN CEO Joachim Drees. “The results of research into the human-machine interface are to flow straight back into technology development,” says Christian Haas, Director of the Institute for Complex Health Research at the Fresenius University, one of the project’s cooperation partners. “We hope that our findings can also contribute to a better understanding and design of other digitized human-machine interfaces,” he adds.
There is a test track of this kind in the heart of Berlin too: the Digitally Connected Protocol Route, or DIGINET PS for short. Since Summer 2017, the automotive industry in cooperation with technology companies and research institutions has been testing how autonomous driving functions in the German capital’s dense city traffic between Großer Stern and Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Vehicles and traffic management systems can automatically access and process all relevant information, such as vehicle density, obstacles and traffic jams on the route. The vehicle automatically stops at red lights and its on-board computer automatically reduces its speed in congested traffic. “With our data we aim to pinpoint the advantages and disadvantages of autonomous driving and thereby generate wider public acceptance,” says Professor Sahin Albayrak, Executive Director of the DAI Laboratory at the Technical University Berlin. “At the same time, we are making our findings available as a basis for other novel solutions.”
Futurist researchers are testing automated driving in the heart of Berlin. All along Diginet-PS’s four-kilometer-long test road, the car is expected to detect pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.
T-Systems is also involved, ensuring security of data processing. “Enormous amounts of data are managed and operated in the DIGINET PS project,” says Jörg Tischler, Vice President Customer Solutions, Connected Mobility, at T-Systems. “That requires not only secure technology but also solutions that permit faultless data handling. At Telekom’s Security Operations Center we have suitable operating infrastructures available.”
Best Practice from Adelaide to Wuhu
What has proven its worth on a small scale at the local and regional level also serves as a blueprint for large-scale projects around the world. Knowledge is not limited by city borders. The interactive Atlas of the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative provides an exchange platform on pilot projects for autonomous cars. In this way the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation networks existing knowledge that helps developers, planners and cities to implement projects of their own, to prepare for the deployment of autonomous vehicles and at the same time to learn from the experiences of others.
Experts in different fields can also undertake joint research and develop solutions as part of the EU’s Horizon2020 research and innovation program. Forty-five carmakers, ICT companies, associations and universities are testing the public use of highly automated IoT vehicles in the AUTOPILOT project, for example. “Large-scale automated driving in the city or on the Autobahn only works if sensors are connected in the cloud and can communicate with each other via standard interfaces,” says T-Systems product manager Ralf Willenbrock. “That is why we are looking into how automotive and IoT technologies connect and how standards can be developed from there to prepare the market and the public sector for automated driving.”
The Smart City as a challenge
Autonomous driving is only a small building block for connecting entire cities. In Smart Cities traffic, logistics, administration, energy and food supplies are highly technologized and automated. Here too, pilot projects are indispensable for testing the future of how we are to live together in the most realistic conditions possible. In the south of Beijing, for example, a gigantic new airport and an 1,100 kilometer railroad network for new high-speed trains are under construction. Each is a mega-project but both are just first steps towards an even greater objective: the development of the smart Chinese metropolitan region Jing-Jin-Ji, which is to transform the three mega-cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Heibei into a showcase connected living region. The planners are benefiting from experiences with similar projects like Masdar, a $22 billion eco-concept city in Abu Dhabi that has been under development for ten years with the goal of transforming it into a CO2-neutral city with highly technologized food, energy and water supply and communications and transportation infrastructure. The experiences of Jing-Jin-Ji’s planners are already flowing into the next large-scale connected project: NEOM, a 26,500 square kilometer city that is taking shape between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as a mixture of technology park, tourist attraction and space suitable for everyday living. When laying the foundation stone, the planners were already relying on connected solutions and robots for optimized processes, shorter construction stages and greater energy efficiency. Ground has yet to be broken but if the project is realized successfully, NEOM will be another trailblazer for urban planners, politicians and companies and a further milestone for IoT applications.
Learning from experience
Bad Birnbach too has learnt from experience – its own experience. Phase 2 of the bus pilot project is well under way. A second autonomous e-bus now serves the route, to which a fourth stop has been added, and in early 2019 the railroad station will be linked to the network. In addition, the vehicles have been updated, with air conditioning and a speed of 25 km/h, nearly twice as fast as before. A positive side effect is that others are following suit. Autonomous buses are now carrying passengers – both patients and staff – safely and reliably to destinations on the Berlin Charité Mitte campus and on the Virchow Clinic grounds five kilometers away.
According to the IT security expert Bruce Schneier, the consequences of unrestricted connectivity in the Internet of Things could be devastating. In the interview, he calls for greater security for the Internet of Things (IoT).