Simulation of a shuttle bus on the University of Stuttgart Vaihingen Campus

The car-free campus is coming

forschung leben – The Magazine of the University of Stuttgart

Shuttle buses and e-scooters will be used to make the University of Stuttgart Vaihingen Campus emission-free. Implementation of the MobiLab project has begun. Climate neutrality by 2030 is the goal.
[Photo: Visualization HLRS]

The MobiLab (Mobility Living Lab) on the University of Stuttgart Vaihingen campus is a real-world laboratory for intelligent, emission-free mobility. Researchers are exploring the possibilities of an emission-free campus with an innovative traffic concept based mainly on the use of shuttle buses and e-scooters.

Visualization of the MobiLab project [de]

© Universität Stuttgart

Sparkling car roofs as far as the eye can see. Anyone who strolls through the University of Stuttgart Vaihingen campus in fine weather will immediately see why previous mobility concepts are being phased out: half of the approximately 5000 staff members and nearly 20 per cent of the 23,000 students on campus get there by car. Not only does that produce harmful nitrogen oxides and the climate killer CO2, it also takes up a lot of space for parking – space that could be being used more sensibly.

But private cars on the Vaihingen campus will soon to be a thing of the past. Mobility Living Lab, or MobiLab for short, is an innovative traffic concept the aim of which is to achieve a car- and emission-free campus. At the same time, research into the mobility of the future will be carried out there.

The MobiLab will be a multifaceted real-world laboratory which will combine research into new forms of traffic development, novel means of transport, electric drive systems as well as intelligent energy storage and distribution systems.

Prof. Wolfram Ressel, Rector of the University of Stuttgart

It garnered 300,000 euro in prize money in an ideas competition organized by the state of Baden-Württemberg, which will also be funding the implementation of MobiLab as an exemplary state-wide lighthouse project with a further 3.5 million euro over the next two years.

Battery charging on the move

Visualization of the planned parking garage on the Vaihingen Campus
A multi-story car park with 3000 parking spaces is to be spanned over the B14 freeway. Solar systems on the roof will generate electricity to charge parked vehicles.

A multi-story car park that will span the B14 freeway will be the gateway to the car-free campus. Around 3000 parking spaces are planned, but the highlight of the building will be on the roof where a solar system will produce electricity, which will be used to charge the parked cars as well as the campus shuttles. “The campus shuttles”, as Prof. Hans-Christian Reuss of the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Automotive Engineering explains, “will be self-propelled, i. e., autonomous shuttle buses of various sizes with electric drives and intelligent sensor technology. They’ll connect the multi-story car park, as well as, incidentally, the central S-Bahn station, with the University buildings, which are spaced far apart.”

A regular service with fixed stops is planned initially and an on-demand service is to be added later, where it will be possible to conveniently book the destination in advance via a cell phone app.

Part of the shuttle route will include a research road in which electrical coils and electronic circuits, designed to enable the inductive charging of the vehicles whilst driving, will be installed. Various scenarios are currently being tested. Of particular importance is the position of the vehicle during the charging process, as this affects the energy transfer, as Prof. Nejila Parspour of the Institute of Electrical Energy Conversion explains. “We are therefore investigating the tolerances of different charging systems, lane-keeping systems and autonomous navigation with a view to improving the ecological balance of electric vehicles.”

If it were possible to develop a close-meshed inductive charging infrastructure that could enable vehicles to be charged on the move – on the freeways for example – the range could be significantly increased for any given battery capacity. On the other hand, it would also be possible to use low-capacity batteries, which would save resources during production. To optimize charging processes, avoid grid bottlenecks and reduce the impact on voltage quality, the charging infrastructure would be integrated into the electrical distribution grid via intelligent solutions. Prof. Krzysztof Rudion of the Institute of Power Transmission and High Voltage Technology is collaborating in the project and is looking at smart grid approaches.

The e-scooters will be use sensors to recognize their surroundings, avoid obstacles and navigate autonomously.

Prof. Frank Allgöwer, head of the Institute for Systems Theory and Automatic Control

However, not every one of the 40,000 daily strolls around the campus can be replaced by a trip on the autonomous Campus Shuttle, which is why the buses will be supplemented by campus scooters. Initially, a start-up will set up an e-scooter rental system, into which autonomous e-scooters will be integrated successively. These are being developed by another start-up in collaboration with the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Systems Theory and Automatic Control (IST) in the Autonomous Micro-Mobility at Campus Uni Stuttgart [de] (AMICUS) subproject. The autonomous e-scooter also drives without a driver, as if by magic and without tipping over, of course. As the head of IST, Prof. Frank Allgöwer explains, modern control technology is behind all of this: “the e-scooters will be kept in balance, even in the event of malfunctions, by means of novel specially developed control strategies and will use sensors to recognize their surroundings, avoid obstacles and navigate autonomously.” Machine learning will also enable the e-scooters to be distributed around the campus in an optimum manner based on user requests, and a distribution algorithm will ensure the best possible route planning. This will make it possible to keep the fleet small. And because the scooters will also be able to drive to the nearest charging station without a driver, the difficult task of the so-called juicers who, elsewhere, have to go out at nights to collect scooters for refueling, will no longer be necessary.

Autonomous e-scooters

© University of Stuttgart | Source: YouTube

Behavioral changes are needed

Many of the MobiLab components still need to be researched and tested, but implementation has already begun. “It’s easier to develop a traffic concept than to implement one,” says MobiLab coordinator Prof. Markus Friedrich. “For the MobiLab to be successful we will need to change the framework conditions for everyday mobility to the campus. There is huge support for more bicycle parking spaces, the Campus Shuttle and the Campus Scooter. But a car-free campus will also require behavioral changes.” Not all staff and students would like it if they had to pay for parking and if, in the medium term, there were no more parking spaces directly in front of the campus buildings, but only in a central car park. “Experience with pedestrian zones shows us that there is resistance prior to implementation, but as soon as we get used to the benefits of the new setup, everyone comes to like it.”

Text: Andrea Mayer-Grenu



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