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Berlin Model Cars for Student Education in Robotics

Freie Universität's AutoMini Project Introduced in Spain

№ 102/2017 from May 02, 2017

As part of the Mexico-Germany Year, computer scientists from Freie Universität Berlin developed additional autonomous model cars for Mexican universities. So far, 22 of them were distributed in Mexico through the Goethe-Institut and the Mexican Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN). The project started in Mexico is now being extended to Spain. The construction of the vehicles was financed by the German Embassy in Mexico and private companies including Bosch, Daimler, Audi, and Volkswagen. The model cars of the AutoMini project can drive autonomously: They have computers, a wide range of sensors such as video cameras and laser scanners, and can be used directly in robotics education.

The AutoMini project is essentially an innovative training course. As part of the project, model vehicles are developed at a scale of one to ten for use in teaching at universities and technical colleges. The robots are freely programmable and enable students to get involved in the "technology of the future" at a low cost. The first twelve vehicles were distributed to twelve robotics groups in Mexico in August 2016. An additional ten vehicles were distributed at Mexican universities in March 2017. Since then, researchers from Freie Universität have held two workshops in Mexico to introduce Mexican students to programming autonomous vehicles and explain the structure of the hardware.

Following the success of the project in Mexico, the approach is being transferred to Spain: In February the car company SEAT in Barcelona ordered ten AutoMinis and distributed them at Spanish universities. In April, researchers from Freie Universität Berlin held the first programming workshop in Barcelona. In October all of the model cars will start in the SEAT Cup in Barcelona. The winners of the competition will be invited by SEAT to develop autonomy software for real vehicles at the Barcelona plant.

"You could say we now have a car factory in Berlin," says computer scientist Prof. Dr. Raúl Rojas of Freie Universität Berlin, who initiated the project. He hopes that by the end of 2017 they will have constructed around 100 vehicles in Berlin. The future competitions are also to be more complex. "In 2018 we will have a whole model city at a scale of 1:10, where the model vehicles will have to observe all the traffic rules including traffic lights and regulations such as yielding the right of way to the vehicle coming from the right," adds Prof. Rojas. And furthermore, "The advantage of using model cars as compared with real prototypes is the low cost." AutoMini is a development platform whose software can ultimately be transferred to real vehicles. According to Rojas, "We strive to make the model cars look as real as possible to make it easier to integrate the trained students into the automotive industry."

At the beginning of April, ten of the cars given to Mexican universities took part in the first competition for autonomous vehicles at the Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico City. Mexican students had programmed the cars over the past eight months and then raced them on a simulated model freeway. The CINVESTAV research center in the city of Saltillo won the race. As of 2018, the Mexican Robotics Federation will organize the annual competition. "Mexican students can use the model vehicles to develop and test all the aspects of programming autonomous vehicles in a simpler laboratory environment," said Raúl Rojas, who continued, "We started something in Mexico that can be continued over a longer term with the universities' own resources, and that was one of the goals of the Germany-Mexico Year."

Press Pictures

(from left to right) Prof. Dr. Raúl Rojas from Freie Universität, a representative of the rector of IPN, Dr. Enrique Fernandez Fassnacht, and H.E. Viktor Elbling, the German Ambassador in Mexico.

One of the AutoMinis during the race

The racetrack in the competition at Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico City.

The photos may be downloaded by members of the media. They may be used free of charge when reporting in the context of the press release, provided that due credit is given the source, "Goethe Institut Mexico."


Prof. Dr. Raúl Rojas, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Freie Universität Berlin,
Tel.: +49 30 838-75102, Email: information-ki@fu-berlin.de