Tilke-designed SunTrax AV test site slated to open in 2021


A state-of-the-art testing ground dedicated to autonomous mobility will open later this year in the state of Florida. German engineering company Tilke was named lead designer by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in 2018.

There are three fundamental approaches to testing and validating autonomous mobility: on public roads, in complex computer simulations and on closed test benches. These approaches ensure that all kinds of critical maneuvers can be executed successfully and evaluated in depth. An example of such a test facility is SunTrax, a “regulated” testing ground currently under construction and slated for launch later this year.

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A safe test environment for sustainable mobility
The SunTrax project is being developed on 202 ha of land near the city of Auburndale in Florida, halfway between the cities of Tampa and Orlando. Tilke ensured that the most modern and advanced test sequences could be conducted in a safe and highly adaptable environment. The company was selected because of its extensive experience in planning and engineering racing tracks and proving grounds internationally over the past 30 years.

Concept development via Tilke
The DNA of Tilke’s racing circuits has been key to successfully engaging in the automotive industry over the past 25 years and becoming a trusted partner for the development of the proving ground.

Hermann Tilke, Founder and Managing Partner of Tilke, said: “After successfully completing the Daimler Immendingen proving ground in 2019, we are proud to have jointly designed and planned the new autonomous mobility test facility. with the FDOT. With the build specifications defined, we were able to incorporate our unique racetrack expertise to ensure safe and efficient operation. This allows for a simultaneous multi-user site as well as a very flexible test environment.

Flexibility and openness are rooted in the company’s DNA. These qualities have allowed Tilke to adapt quickly and incorporate new, innovative and complex test specifications for autonomous mobility into its new designs. SunTrax introduces a new standard for testing, validating and certifying AV technology in the United States and beyond.

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

To provide 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 areas building and ice. These vehicle-centered forms of communication will play a big role in improving safety for all.

A modern proving is designed around countless different test scenarios and the flexibility to adapt to change for future needs. These modern installations focus on extreme cases. These borderline cases are very complex traffic situations that will test the vehicle, leading to the detection and identification of potential faults and failures in the system.

SunTrax’s proving ground will focus on the following test case clusters that will be available for collective use by the extended user community:

  • Road tests with “on” and “off ramp” merger situations, peloton
  • An urban road network with intricate intersections and roundabouts in which flexible building facades are assembled and pedestrian substitutes are parked
  • Brake pads with different surfaces for emergency braking simulation
  • Weather chamber to simulate fog and rain
  • Laboratories and research and development spaces

This road infrastructure will allow the modeling and simulation of multiple traffic conditions as well as the safe deployment of autonomous vehicle technology. In addition, real cases such as traffic problems and accidents can be reproduced and simulated on site.

Safety certification and trust in technology
One of the main advantages of a closed proving ground is its contribution to building autonomous mobility systems and building confidence in technology. The certification agency will be able to issue safety certificates for vehicles and systems while using the facility and mastering very complex test scenarios. Confidence in technology is at the heart of the successful commercial deployment of audiovisual solutions on public roads and in our everyday lives.

SunTrax will foster the technical development of new mobility solutions and become an experimental playground for OEMs, Tier 1 vendors, 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 outcomes and effects of introducing these new mobility concepts.

Manuel Rubow, Test Track Design Director at Tilke, commented: “At SunTrax we have tried to integrate the full spectrum of predictable mobility technologies and systems. This includes all aspects of or related to a vehicle, such as road infrastructure, traffic lights, road surface condition, city development, and communications infrastructure.

“Thanks to our long-standing relationships with OEMs and others, we find ourselves in a very privileged and advantageous position. Through our links with these various organizations, we have a deep understanding of the technological revolution and the implications that lie ahead in 10 to 15 years. Even so, our designs must be able to provide enough flexibility to such an extent that the requirements – those that may not be known or needed by us now – can already begin to be incorporated. The project was quite a unique and particular challenge.

The SunTrax installation will be completed in 2021. Site construction began in 2018 and the first modules have already been opened.


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