12.5 million euros for the future of mobility: Joint project focuses on automated rail transport in rural areas

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Using rail mobility to contribute to highly automated, digitalised and sustainable mobility and to rethink interfaces with other modes of transport - this is the aim of the recently approved project "Automated rail transport as the basis for sustainable, networked mobility in rural areas (enableATO)", in which researchers from Paderborn University are involved. The project will be based at the RailCampus OWL in Minden. Minden is thus one of four locations within the DZM (German Centre for Future Mobility).

Over the next three years, a strong project consortium of universities, Fraunhofer institutes in the region and companies will advance technologies for automated, rail-based mobility concepts and research and identify interfaces between rail-based mobility and other modes of transport in rural areas. Driverless rail transport systems such as the MONOCAB or the road-rail vehicle will demonstrate automated rail transport in Minden and Extertal. The aim is to use them in regular test operations in the near future.

"This marks a significant step towards sustainable, networked and automated mobility for the future and for rural areas, such as in OWL," says Prof Dr Stefan Witte, Vice President for Research and Transfer at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences and Arts (TH OWL) and project coordinator. The funding of 12.5 million euros is being provided by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport Affairs (BMDV).

The aim of the "enableATO" project is to enable modern ideas for automated rail mobility and their investigation in new rail-based approaches in rural areas. The focus is on technologies related to automated driving such as perception by sensors, authorisation issues, intelligent maintenance and the demonstration of technologies, e.g. in the MONOCAB. At the same time, initial questions regarding user acceptance are being researched and addressed and the scientific dialogue strengthened.

The challenge of transport system transformation is to combine sustainability and efficiency. Automation, autonomous driving, intelligent traffic management, digital connectivity and networked mobility play a central role in this context. The RailCampus OWL as an innovation centre for this project provides space for new impulses and makes a decisive contribution to the research and development of new automated mobility approaches for sustainable rail mobility as a socially relevant factor.

Investigating rail-bound mobility at the RailCampus OWL

The RailCampus OWL pools and expands expertise and will create and utilise new things in this project. Various new mobility approaches are being researched and demonstrated there, such as automated transport with the MONOCAB developed by TH OWL and a two-way vehicle that was initially designed at Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and Arts for logistics applications and can travel on both rail and road. These approaches aim to reactivate unused railway infrastructure and use it sustainably for more individualised mobility by rail, but require automation.

Strong partnership for sustainable mobility

The project consortium is made up of renowned partners. In addition to Paderborn University, the consortium includes Bielefeld University, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences and Arts, DB Systemtechnik GmbH, Wölfel Engineering GmbH + Co KG, HARTING Technology Group, Pilz GmbH & Co. KG and the Fraunhofer Institutes IEM (Paderborn) and IOSB-INA (Lemgo). Associated partners are WAGO and DB Cargo AG. Together, the partners are contributing extensive expertise and many years of experience to advance the vision of sustainable, networked and automated mobility in rural areas. The enableATO project will make an important contribution to this.

Statements from the project participants:

Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Walter Sextro, Chair of Dynamics and Mechatronics (LDM), Paderborn University
"The aim of the project is to achieve intelligent maintenance of rail vehicles. This enables potential faults to be recognised and rectified at an early stage, resulting in greater operational reliability, less downtime and lower costs overall."

PD Dr Sven Wachsmuth, Centre for Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), Research Institute for Cognition and Robotics (CoR-Lab), Bielefeld University
"Machine learning makes it possible to rethink the operation of smaller rail vehicles with concepts of autonomous driving. To do this, a vehicle must be able to recognise people and obstacles as early as possible and react to them intelligently. In this project, we want to put research technology into practice."

Prof. Dr Rolf Naumann, Dean of the Department of Engineering and Mathematics at Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and Arts and Head of the Bachelor's degree programme in Digital Railway Systems at RailCampus OWL
"The challenge of implementing a sustainable mobility concept can only succeed as a team. The project consortium of universities, Fraunhofer Institutes and companies is pooling the necessary expertise. Together with its partners, HSBI is developing small, autonomous rail vehicles. In addition, the aim is to develop robust processes and methods to increase their acceptance."

Philip Kleen, Functional Safety Engineer (FS Eng), Fraunhofer IOSB-INA, Lemgo
"We are researching how new technologies can be used in a functionally safe way. For example, to enable automated driving and new vehicle concepts. We determine an accepted level of safety and the associated safety concepts as well as test procedures and methods to prove this safety. Finally, it is also about clarifying the legal framework for operation."

Maximilian Bause, Group Leader Trusted Machine Intelligence (TMI), Fraunhofer IEM Paderborn
"Automated rail transport tailored to rural areas offers long-term potential for shaping the mobility of the future. As part of the project, we at Fraunhofer IEM are researching and developing AI-based control systems and regulations that meet the safety and flexibility requirements of a sustainable mobility concept for rail transport."

Christian Homeier, Head of Testing and Product Safety Measurement Technology, DB Systemtechnik GmbH
"With enableATO, we can give a further boost to the development of automated railway operations and, in particular, research the basic ATO prerequisite: the safe and reliable technical perception of the environment of rail vehicles. Ultimately, we are ensuring that these perception systems meet the authorisation requirements."

Dr Daniel Nordsiek, Director Innovation Hub, HARTING Stiftung & Co. KG
"The joint project is a confirmation of our joint work at RailCampus OWL. The German Centre for Mobility strengthens the rail industry in the region and lays the foundation for future-oriented rail projects."

Sebastian Lüke, Head of BU Rail, Pilz GmbH & Co. KG
"In particular, we will contribute our proven expertise in carrying out risk analyses and developing safety concepts to the project. We want to further develop this expertise together with the project partners for digital rail".

Dr Manuel Eckstein, Head of Simulation & Predictive Maintenance, Wölfel Engineering GmbH + Co KG
"enableATO enables Wölfel to analyse condition and performance indicators (KPIs) based on vibration measurement data. In future, this will make it possible to realise continuous monitoring and condition-based maintenance of rail vehicles and infrastructure."

Further information on the German Centre for Future Mobility (DZM):

The project is embedded in the German Centre for Future Mobility (DZM), which, with its four locations in Hamburg, Annaberg-Buchholz, Minden and Karlsruhe, spans a nationwide research network and pools expertise in mobility research. During the course of the project and beyond, the locations will network via a series of events. These serve to promote communication in politics, business and society as well as co-operation between the locations. Annual rolling conferences, seminars and winter schools bring the scientists from the locations together. Continuous coordination between the projects at working and management level creates synergies and allows the project results to be checked for transferability.

Further information on the RailCampus OWL:

An innovation ecosystem has been created in the vicinity of the railway station in Minden and on the DB Systemtechnik site, in which research, teaching, transfer and business work closely together in the field of intelligent railway technology. The common goal of the partnership in RailCampus OWL e.V. - initiated by four Campus OWL universities (Bielefeld University, Paderborn University, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences and Arts, TH OWL), DB Systemtechnik, DB Cargo, HARTING, WAGO, the city of Minden and the district of Minden-Lübbecke - is to create a special place that provides impetus from science, business and politics for sustainable rail mobility as a socially relevant factor.

This text has been translated automatically.

Photo (RailCampus OWL, Jürgen Tuscher): The joint project enableATO will be based at RailCampus OWL, making Minden one of four locations within the German Centre for Future Mobility. Guests from politics and administration also attended the project opening.