Test track Immendingen: Technology of Tomorrow is on the Move

Daimler’s new Testing and Technology Center is celebrating its official opening this afternoon in the town of Immendingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. At the center, Daimler engineers will be able to run stringent tests under realistic conditions, not only for the company’s current generation of vehicles but also for the mobility of tomorrow.

I love my job as a vehicle developer with all my heart and soul. That’s why the inauguration of the new Testing and Technology Center in Immendingen is a very special event for me. After ten years of preparations and construction, the testing facility is now ready to begin operating.

Here, 130 kilometers south of Stuttgart and 40 kilometers north of the town of Radolfzell on the shores of Lake Constance, Daimler is setting course to maintain and expand our leading role in future-oriented technologies: connectivity, autonomous driving, flexible use, and electric drive systems.

With an area of five square kilometers, the complex is twice as big as the Principality of Monaco. It will create 300 new jobs in total, and already today 170 people are working in Immendingen.

The E-Class and an automatically moving, crashable target for testing collision prevention systems: those tests will in future take place on the Bertha area in Immendingen

At the new Testing and Technology Center, we’ve got sample stretches of many different kinds of streets and roads. In the past two years we’ve built about 68 kilometers of gravel paths, streets and roads in order to test assistance systems under a variety of conditions.

The realistic testing facilities include an endurance track, steep inclines, and winding country roads with a variety of road markings, road surfaces, and driving experiences for drivers and assistance systems. Immendingen is the only place where you can find such ideal testing conditions.

Right place for specific tests and test drives

The motto behind the project was “Why seek far afield when good things are so close at hand?” To put it another way, the test drivers no longer have to travel all over the world in order to find the right place for specific tests and test drives. Today they only have to come to Immendingen. On the test course, we can simulate daily driving in a city as well on country roads or in rough terrain – as realistically as possible.

Tropical heat, below-zero Siberian temperatures, Alpine off-road terrain — only after the newly developed vehicles have mastered extreme challenges like these can they make the transition from the test course to public roads. And you can say: The whole world of streets and traffic routes is at home in Immendingen!

Simulation of a city center traffic situation, fire analysis lab, and parking garage

In order to test autonomous parking, a special parking garage has been built on the grounds of the testing center. It has narrow ramps and reinforced concrete ceilings that block signals from satellites — so that the vehicles can’t cheat by using the signals as they search for a parking space. This parking garage was added at a later stage of the construction process. That’s because the assistance systems are developing at such a rapid pace that we have to react very flexibly. At the moment we’re already planning additional buildings.

Because real life keeps surprising us

For an automaker like Daimler, a Testing and Technology Center like this is essential for dealing with the growing challenges of the future if we want to keep our leading role. That’s more important now than ever, because our sector is changing faster today than ever before. But now we’re even better prepared to deal with these challenges — under real conditions.

Of course, we can do a lot of calculations on the computer, but ultimately test drives on real roads are indispensable if we want to make the sensor systems fit for daily use. During these drives, you find out over and over again that real life always holds surprises that the computer didn’t predict. In the end, I simply have to take the vehicle out on the road so that I can see if my expectations and calculations stand up to reality and check how the sensor systems are holding up.

To test our autonomously driving vehicles, we’ve developed “Bertha.” That’s what we call the largest paved area on the testing grounds. We didn’t choose this name at random. “Bertha” is the German acronym for the term “area for the evaluation and testing of, and with, highly automated vehicles.” On this area of 100,000 square meters, we can reproduce challenging and complex traffic situations very precisely and as often as required.

View over the 100.000 square meters large Bertha area

However, the name “Bertha” also has a historical background. Bertha Benz was the wife of Carl Benz, one of our two founding fathers. She became the world’s first test driver when she took her children on a nearly 100 kilometers drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her parents. Naming the area “Bertha” is one way we’re building a bridge from the past to the future.

The test course at Immendingen has already been in use for a year now, because we’re doing especially stringent research and testing in the area of automatic and autonomous driving. We’re the first company to have this kind of area for testing autonomous driving. We’re already the pioneers for this technology, and “Bertha” will help us to stay that way in the future.

Immendingen: Really a lucky find

It took us a long time before we could make the initial test drives. We started searching for a suitable location almost exactly ten years ago. We carefully looked at 120 potential locations, and twelve of them made the short list. Immendingen was really a lucky find for us. From the very first moment, the people here welcomed us and our proposal for a Testing and Technology Center with open arms.

Overseeing everything in the control stand of the Bertha area

In Immendingen we also had the advantage of being in the right place at the right time. One year before our first visit in 2011, the French contingent had withdrawn from the local German-French military base, and the German army wanted to give up this location, too. The community realized that the testing center would bring them great economic opportunities, and it decided to take the plunge.

That’s when the game really kicked off. While the local community made it clear to the Ministry of Defense that it would cope with the loss of the military base without any state subsidies, Daimler started to negotiate its purchase of the land with the Ministry of Finance. In the end, everyone was a winner, including the environment.

 

Room for trees, beavers — and cars

From the very start, Daimler planned to make sure all the construction work would be in harmony with nature. Before the first ground was broken, we had already worked with experts from various nature conservation associations, walked through the area together, and asked them what they especially valued about this location and what was worth conserving. For example, a protected species of wild lady’s slipper orchids grows in Immendingen. To make sure these sensitive plants can continue to flourish, their biotope is now being protected.

In our construction plans, we also took into account the overall map of wildlife routes that the experts had prepared. This is not yet legally required, but we just wanted to be on the safe side. This map predicts the migratory behavior of large game animals that are not yet at home in Germany but are expected to migrate here in the future. An expert gave us advice on what we have to do so that we don’t obstruct this plan. The result of these discussions is a wildlife corridor that crosses the grounds of the testing center and was left undisturbed by our planned construction measures.

Green areas, green technologies: Environmental protection has a high priority

What about other environmental protection measures? The excavated earth from the construction work has stayed on the center’s grounds. About 3.4 million cubic meters of earth in all were dug up and redeposited in other places. During the necessary clearance process we also took the local bats and beetles into account and set up alternative nesting places for them. In a newly formed alluvial forest, we created space for beavers, where they can now build their dams undisturbed and thus leave neighboring agricultural land alone.

Thanks to our compensatory measures, a mixed forest is now growing outside the center complex, and the testing grounds are being reforested too. Instead of fast-growing spruce trees, the forest now consists of beech and silver fir trees. Three generations from now, splendid beech forests will be growing there.

For me as a vehicle developer, this was also an interesting period of learning about ecology. At the end of all this work, I’m proud that we’ve not only made the Testing and Technology Center in Immendingen a technological showpiece – but also demonstrated that economy and ecology can go hand in hand.

Reiner Imdahl started his career at Daimler in 1985 in the Development Controlling unit. After working at smart as manager of the overall vehicle testing unit, he became the head of Daimler’s testing ground strategy team in 2006. Since September 1, 2018, he has been the head of the Testing and Technology Center in Immendingen.