The BMW Group is launching a unique project that will see cars maneuver around production without requiring a driver. The Automated Driving In-Plant project (Automatisiertes Fahren im Werk, AFW) is being realized in collaboration with two startups and will enhance the efficiency of new-vehicle logistics in plants and distribution centers.
The aim of the AFW pilot project is for vehicles to move autonomously around logistics areas and assembly safely, efficiently and without requiring a driver. To make this happen, the BMW Group has been collaborating with Seoul Robotics from South Korea and Embotech from Switzerland.
Launching in July 2022 at BMW Group Plant Dingolfing, the new system will first be tested on two cars: the new BMW 7 Series and the fully electric BMW i7.
Automated driving within the plant is fundamentally different from autonomous driving for customers. It doesn’t use sensors in the vehicle. In fact, the car itself is more or less blind and the sensors for maneuvering them are integrated along the route through the plant.
—BMW Group project manager Sascha Andree
AFW builds on two key technologies: a sensor infrastructure to support vehicle localization and detect obstacles in the plant environment; and a drive-planning software that transmits controlled commands to the driverless vehicles via mobile communications.
Initially, the vehicles will only move through the assembly area and then to logistics. Fresh off the production line, they will drive themselves to a parking area, ready for their onward journey by train or truck. Essentially, the technology can be used from the moment the cars are capable of driving independently in production—just after the first ignition of the engine, in other words.
Seoul Robotics’s lidar detection software uses static monitoring sensors to create a digital twin of the environment, including object classification and vehicle localization, while Embotech’s drive-planning software steers, brakes, accelerates and parks the driverless vehicles. Routes are calculated in real-time, and rather than needing to be trained or programmed for the current situation, each car is able to respond independently to its surroundings.
This collaboration with two young startups was made possible by the BMW Group’s venture client unit, the BMW Startup Garage. Having discovered Seoul Robotics as a potentially interesting supplier of technologies, the BMW Startup Garage initiated the first proof-of-concept project. After a product demonstration, Embotech was welcomed on board as well.
The pilot project will run for several months. Later it will be rolled out further, initially on additional models at Plant Dingolfing and later in other plants as well.
The BMW Startup Garage is in contact with more than 1,000 startups a year worldwide; it seeks innovations that will be of strategic value to BMW Group products, services, systems and processes. The venture client approach secures early access to innovations, which can then be shaped and adapted before reaching market maturity to meet the needs of the BMW Group.
For the startups, this offers valuable insights into automotive processes, an opportunity to build up networks in the industry, and support with the further development of their business plans. The aim is to evaluate startups and develop them so they become long-term partners of the BMW Group. The BMW Startup Garage has a global presence, with bases in every BMW Tech Office location: Munich, Mountain View, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo and, since 2020, Tel Aviv as well.
The BMW Startup Garage has successfully carried out more than 150 pilot projects with leading startups, with a cumulative investment volume of more than US$4.5 billion.