The steering of the future with racing driver DNA
"From Track to Road": Motorsport as a development accelerator for Steer-by-Wire, the digital steering system for autonomous driving
Autonomous vehicles have to steer, brake and accelerate. Professional racing drivers are pretty good at this. Big Data and the "Space Drive" technology from Schaeffler Paravan implement the know-how of motorsport professionals in the control algorithms of autonomous vehicles. This does not ensure fast lap times in everyday life - but it does provide a significant increase in safety.
When endurance champion Tim Scheerbarth races towards the Aremberg curve of the Nürburgring in his Mercedes-AMG GT3, brakes from over 250 km/h to well below 100 km/h, turns in, and briefly takes his foot off the gas when accelerating out into the Fuchsröhre to prevent the rear from swerving, he has a spy on board. Highly sensitive measuring devices register the steering angle, lateral acceleration, accelerator pedal position, speed as well as the driver's braking force. Over 200 parameters are constantly recorded and transferred to the Schaeffler Paravan data pool.
Schaeffler Paravan is responsible for the steering of the 550 hp bolide. As the first fully electric steering system for motorsport, "Space Drive" does without a steering column. The steering movement is transmitted to the steering actuators exclusively via electrical signals. A tried and tested technology that Paravan has been steadily developing in a completely different field since 2003: Car drivers with physical limitations and participation in road traffic is often what makes steer-by-wire steering possible in the first place. In 2020, the steering system was used for the first time in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring. And was linked there to an ambitious goal that goes far beyond podium places or championships.
"We use motorsport with its extreme requirements as a test laboratory that generates an enormous pool of data for the use of Space Drive in autonomous vehicles," explains Roland Arnold, CEO of Schaeffler Paravan Technologie. "Because autonomous vehicles first have to learn how to steer, brake and accelerate. And who better to teach them than a pool of professional racing drivers?"
We use motorsport with its extreme requirements as a test laboratory that generates an enormous pool of data for the use of Space Drive in autonomous vehicles.
The algorithms learn from them which strategies are successful. How Markus Winkelhock absorbs the oversteer in the Sachs curve at Hockenheim - or how multiple DTM champion Bernd Schneider in the GT3 Mercedes manages to drive the Hatzenbach combination of the Nürburgring quickly and smoothly on a wet track.
The secrets of the champions are stored in the Schaeffler Paravan data pool. "We record all these driving conditions in order to find the right solutions in fractions of a second, even in critical situations, with a view to autonomous driving. This turns the race track into a development accelerator for series production for us - in line with our motto' `From Track to Road'," says Arnold.
With Space Drive 3 AddOn, Schaeffler Paravan is now taking the step towards series production. The redundant system relies on a consistent safety concept and meets the highest requirements according to ISO 26262. As an AUTOSAR-based system with direct connection to the vehicle electronics as well as communication and network architecture, integration into already existing driver assistance systems is possible.
Passengers of autonomous vehicles can therefore rely on the accumulated driving skills of many DTM and VLN champions in the future. Until then, the Space Drive makers are looking forward to their sporting successes, such as at the 49th ADAC TOTAL 24h Nürburgring last year.
In the second edition for a steer-by-wire vehicle, which manages entirely without a mechanical connection between the steering unit and steering column, the developers entered a Mercedes-AMG GT3 last year for the first time in the history of the 24-hour classic. With success! The team around the endurance specialists Philip Ellis, Darren Turner, Tim Scheerbarth and Dominik Farnbacher coped excellently with the not so easy conditions, crossed the finish line in 16th place and took the victory in their class (SPX).
"You hardly feel the bumps on the Nordschleife with Space Drive," says Dominik Farnbacher. "It drives a little differently. You get more feedback from the car and perceive everything a little differently, not through the steering wheel," reports starting driver Philip Ellis. "We are close to conventional steering," says Tim Scheerbarth, who has already sat in the Space Drive cockpit of the Porsche Cayman GT4 in 2020. "In racing, you drive at the limit for a long time, which helps Space Drive to develop quickly," says Darren Turner. The physical strain, especially over the long distance, is less.
For Space Drive, the demanding and material-demanding course of the Nordschleife and especially the adverse conditions at the beginning of the race were a real challenge. But it is precisely these extreme situations that are important for the Schaeffler Paravan data engineers in order to be able to generate resilient information, identify advantages and potential for improvement.