Tilke-designed SunTrax AV test site set for 2021 opening

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A state-of-the-art testing ground dedicated to autonomous mobility will be inaugurated later this year in the state of Florida. German engineering firm Tilke was appointed as the lead designer by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) back in 2018.

 There are three fundamental approaches to test and validate autonomous mobility: on public roads, in complex computer-based simulations and on closed testbed facilities. These approaches ensure that all kinds of critical maneuvers can be successfully performed and thoroughly evaluated. An example of such a testing facility is SunTrax, a ‘regulated’ proving ground currently under construction and scheduled to be launched later this year.

A safe testing environment for sustainable mobility
The SunTrax project is being developed on a 202ha plot of land close to the city of Auburndale in Florida, halfway between the cities of Tampa and Orlando. Tilke has ensured that the most contemporary and cutting-edge testing sequences can be conducted in a safe and highly adaptable environment. The firm was selected due to its extensive background in planning and engineering racetracks and proving grounds on an international scale for the last 30 years.

Concept development through Tilke
Tilke’s racetrack DNA has been the key to successfully engaging with the automotive industry over the last 25 years as well as becoming a trusted partner for proving ground development.

Hermann Tilke, founder and managing partner at Tilke, said, “After having successfully completed the Daimler Immendingen proving ground in 2019, we are proud to have designed and planned the new autonomous mobility test facility in conjunction with the FDOT. Together with the defined construction specifications, we were able to incorporate our unique expertise from racetracks to ensure a safe and efficient operation. This allows for a concurrent multi-user venue as well as a highly flexible testing environment.”

Flexibility and openness are ingrained in the company’s DNA. These qualities have enabled Tilke to adapt quickly and incorporate new, innovative, complex testing specifications for autonomous mobility within its new designs. SunTrax introduces a new standard of testing, validating and certifying AV tech in the US and beyond.

Connectivity, highway rides, flexible urban environment
When designing a contemporary, cutting-edge proving ground for autonomous mobility, a detailed analysis, understanding and evaluation of future vehicle and communication technology is imperative.

To deliver safe and reliable AVs and reduce accidents while improving efficiency, a strong and secure communication network is a prerequisite. With V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) communication, vehicles are better able to actively and accurately identify and inform drivers and passengers about real-time hazards such as construction areas and ice. These forms of vehicle-centric communication will play a great part in improving safety for all.

A modern proving is designed around countless different testing scenarios and the flexibility to adapt to change for future needs. The focus of these modern facilities is edge cases. These edge cases are highly complex traffic situations that will challenge the vehicle, which will result in the detection and pinpointing of potential loopholes and failures in the system.

The SunTrax proving ground will be centered around the following testing scenario clusters that will be available for the collective use of the extended user community:

  • Highway testing with ‘on-’ and ‘off-ramp’ merger situations, platooning
  • An urban road network with complex intersections and roundabouts in which flexible building façades are assembled and pedestrian substitutes are stationed
  • Braking pads with various surfaces for the simulation of emergency braking
  • Weather chamber to simulate fog and rain
  • Laboratories and research and development spaces

This road infrastructure will enable the modeling and simulation of multiple traffic conditions as well as the safe deployment of autonomous vehicle technology. Furthermore, real-life cases such as traffic issues and accidents can be replicated and simulated on-site.

Safety certification and building trust in technology
One of the key advantages of a closed proving ground is its contribution to the building of autonomous mobility systems and the forging of trust in the tech. The certification agency will be able to issue safety certificates for vehicles and systems while using the facility and mastering highly complex testing scenarios. Trust and confidence in technology are central to the successful commercial rollout of AV solutions on public roads and in our day-to-day lives.

SunTrax will promote the technical development of new mobility solutions and become an experimental playground for OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, startups, and mobility service providers to test and validate their respective technologies. In addition, SunTrax will serve as an important platform for insurance companies, city planners, universities and politicians to better understand the results and effects of introducing these novel mobility concepts.

Manuel Rubow, design director for test tracks at Tilke, commented, “At SunTrax, we tried to incorporate the entire spectrum of foreseeable mobility technologies and systems. This includes every aspect of or relating to a vehicle, such as road infrastructure, traffic lights, road surface conditions, city development and communications infrastructure.

“Throughout our long-standing relationships with OEMs and others, we find ourselves in a very privileged and advantageous position. Through our connections with these various organizations, we have a deep insight into the technology revolution and implications that lie 10-15 years ahead of us. Even so, our designs must be able to provide enough flexibility to a point that requirements – ones that may not be known or needed by us now – can already begin to be incorporated. The project has been a rather unique and particular challenge.”

The SunTrax facility will be completed in 2021. Construction of the site began back in 2018 and the first modules have already been opened.

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