High-tech in production – 7-series BMWs drive blind but autonomously through the factory

Autonomous cars are now daily business at BMW: Recently, almost finished copies of the 7 Series and the i7 have been driving through the Dingolfing plant without a driver – not even the on-board sensors are active. can be seen here in the video above, which offers even more insights into the production of the new Munich flagship.

With the Dingolfing pilot project “Automated driving in the factory” (AFW), the BMW Group wants to increase the efficiency of the logistics of newly produced vehicles in factories and distribution centers. To this end, BMW is cooperating with the South Korean startup Seoul Robotics and the Swiss startup Embotech. “We have a different approach than with autonomous driving because we don’t use sensors from the vehicles. The car itself is virtually blind. Instead, we installed sensors along the routes that we use to move the cars in the plants,” says BMW project manager Sascha Andree. The AFW solution relies on two key technologies. On the one hand, a sensor infrastructure is used that helps to locate the vehicles and at the same time recognizes obstacles in the factory environment. On the other hand, a movement planner sends controlled commands to the driverless vehicles via mobile communications. This means that the finished vehicles drive themselves to a parking lot. From there they are transported on by train or truck. In principle, the technology can be used as soon as the vehicles can drive themselves in the production process – i.e. shortly after the engine is first started. The lidar detection software from the startup Seoul Robotics uses the static monitoring sensors to create a digital twin of the environment, including object classification and position determination for the vehicles. Embotech’s timetable planning software steers, brakes, accelerates and parks the driverless vehicles. The routes are calculated in real time. Situational programming or vehicle training is not required. Instead, each vehicle is able to react independently to the surrounding situation. The pilot phase extends over a period of several months. Another roll-out is initially planned with additional models in Dingolfing. Later, the technology will also be used in other plants. In Dingolfing, BMW, with 17,000 employees, builds the iX, 4, 5, 6 and 8 series models in addition to the 7 series, up to 1600 cars a day Group working on a single project has probably never happened before,” says HanBin Lee, CEO of Seoul Robotics. The people of Munich keep getting start-ups on board via the so-called “BMW Startup Garage”. Since 2015, the BMW Group has been evaluating possible projects together with startups using the venture client model. The product of a start-up is bought at an early stage and not the shares in the company itself. More than 150 pilot projects have already been successfully carried out, which have a cumulative investment volume of more than 4.5 billion US dollars.
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