Research project uses vehicles and smartphones to update digital maps in real time

Unlike driving on expressways, automated driving in towns is an extremely challenging task. For this purpose, the SAFARI research project uses highly precise and self-updating digital maps fed from vehicles and smartphones. In Berlin, this approach is being tested under realistic conditions. In the project IAV is, among other aspects, responsible for communication between vehicles and back-end as well as for updating the maps at the back-end.

Precise digital maps are essential for automated driving. It was for this reason too that Audi, BMW and Daimler took over map supplier Here in 2015. But precision alone is not enough for coping in a highly dynamic environment like an inner-city area. “Today, only static map material is available which is updated every couple of months”, reports André Heinrich, manager of the Digital Maps team at IAV. “In SAFARI, we want to use sensors in vehicles and smartphones for sensing the driving environment and getting maps up to date in real time, so to speak.“

Production technology and research vehicles in use

This new approach is tested in the Berlin district of Reinickendorf. Available for this purpose are six kilometers of main roads and ten kilometers of side streets with a total of 13 sets of traffic lights. Vehicles with production-ready technology (such as video cameras), research vehicles with special 360° cameras and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and smartphone cameras deliver the information which is sent to a back-end using the new 5G cellular network technology. This is where the digital map material is stored, which is immediately updated on the basis of the data received and sent back to road users.

This highly precise and constantly updated map material is the basis for automated and connected vehicles in the future. Changes in the streetscape, such as through road works or cars parking on the road, are immediately identified and relayed to all connected vehicles in the surrounding area. “Statistical evaluation at the back-end identifies the current trajectories and divergence from the anticipated track”, Heinrich says. For this purpose, the connected vehicles are also to deliver information on available roadside parking spaces and identify specific objects, such as street lamps or road signs and, if necessary, update their position.

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High-speed data transmission by 5G cellular technology

Within SAFARI, IAV is focusing close attention on communication between connected vehicles and the back-end with the digital map material. “We need to transmit very large quantities of data in a short period of time”, Heinrich says. “For this, we want to use a dedicated 5G cellular network that not only provides high data rates but also guarantees very short latency.” Further focal aspects of IAV’s work are V-2-X communication for exchanging hazard warnings and infrastructure communication between vehicle and traffic lights by means of 802.11p technology (Wi-Fi).

“Autonomous vehicles need to trust on more than just their sensors“, says Heinrich summing up. “They also need precise maps that are up to date. Our vision is for every vehicle to be connected with the back-end in future, send its data there and, in return, receive the latest road information.”

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