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The Test and Technology Center in Immendingen has more than 30 different test circuits that can be used to simulate a variety of driving conditions. Here and in our Daimler-Podcast Headlights (this episode only available in German) I describe my work as a development engineer at the site.
Daimler has summarized the four strategic future areas of connectivity (connected), autonomous driving (autonomous), flexible use (shared), and electric drive systems (electric) under the heading CASE — and it is exactly these four areas that we’ve been working on since our testing and development center opened in late summer 2018. The test center in Immendingen, which has a total area of 530 hectares, is like a little piece of paradise for development engineers.
Just one quick look at the site shows you that we spend a lot of time working with test equipment, by which I mean various vehicle and pedestrian dummies that help us make our driving assistance systems even better. These mock-ups are detected as real cars or people by the camera systems and radar sensors in our normal vehicles. They generally consists of individual components that are like pieces of a puzzle and are covered by a foil. If an impact actually occurs, the test equipment simply breaks up into its individual parts, which means neither our vehicles nor our test equipment gets damaged.
Development engineer instead of excavator operator
When I was a kid, I never thought that I would one day be a development engineer at Daimler and work on driving assistance systems every day. Back then I wanted to become an excavator operator, which I guess is a dream lots of little boys have. Later on I wanted to become an inventor, and I can also remember a phase when I wanted to be a physicist more than anything else, which I guess got me a little closer to where I am now. After all, my job today has a lot to do with physics and new inventions.
I’m regularly confronted with the limits of physics when I go about my work. For example, I really enjoy it when vehicles brake extremely hard in our tests; it’s truly spectacular when things get tight in this regard. Naturally, I know that there isn’t going to be an accident — but somehow I’m impressed when things actually go smoothly in the end. When a vehicle comes to a standstill just a little under a meter in front of an obstacle, it often seems like it’s only a few centimeters when you look at it from the driver’s seat — and that’s really fascinating even after you’ve experienced it a hundred times or so.
Control vehicles even in borderline situations
My colleagues and I at the test center also learn about how vehicles without driver assistance systems react in order to ensure we can drive safely with early prototypes in the development stage. Basically, it’s all about being able to control the vehicle and stay safe in borderline situations as well. Let me give you an example of what I mean: Say you’re driving along a small street marked out by red-white traffic cones and with a traffic light operated by a random generator that tells you whether you need to go to the left or right. The speed for this maneuver is predefined — but suddenly the ESP system and other electronic assistants deactivate. The objective here is to be able to keep control of the vehicle anyway; in other words, you need to initiate an evasive maneuver and then bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.
We don’t drive ourselves in all scenarios but instead sometimes work with so-called steering robots that we install in the vehicles. Here, actuators are used to operate the gas and brake pedals and the steering wheel very precisely and in a reproducible manner. We do this mainly in situations where maneuvers need to be very precise — for example when an oncoming vehicle or one crossing the road close in front appears and the vehicle needs to be steered slightly into the oncoming lane. Even when a steering robot is used to control the vehicle, I still sit in the passenger seat and monitor the measuring instruments, and I can also take control of the vehicle at any time.
Measurement data analysis at Daimler in Immendingen
After such tests are conducted, I get off the test circuit and head back to the office, where I check and analyze the recorded measurement data, including both the information from the vehicle systems and the data on the actions taken by our steering robots. For example, we check to see whether the vehicle actually stayed in the middle of its lane or moved out of it with the desired offset. We also decide whether the recorded measurements will be useful for a data analysis, and we identify the type of knowledge we can gain from the measurement. In addition, we calculate the distance at which the vehicle came to a stop in front of the obstacle. In situations where the systems reached their limits, we determine the extent to which we were able to reduce the vehicle’s speed before it hit the obstacle.
Our driving assistance systems today can intervene in many situations to prevent an accident or, if that’s not physically possible, at least mitigate the effects of an accident and thus reduce the risk of injury — in some cases dramatically — to the vehicle’s occupants and to the other party to the accident. Put simply, our assistance systems help ensure less damage occurs and fewer people are injured than would be the case without these systems. This is very important work — and I’m glad to be a part of it. The Test and Technology Center is still a very new facility, but something akin to an Immendingen family is already beginning to take shape. I like that type of family atmosphere and team spirit a lot, and I really enjoy working in Immendingen.