There, another. The sports car comes off the curve. The engine roars as the driver accelerates, then the car is driven away, disappearing around the next corner. The noise hardly attracts the attention of the people who work here. They would be more likely to notice if he was missing. It’s a bit like the music that accompanies your work here in Weissach near Stuttgart: all of the manufacturer’s new vehicles are designed and developed in the Porsche development center, including road tests at the company’s premises, including the test track.
Packed with sensors and computers, future Porsches run on the irregular oval with its many curves. When the test vehicle returns, engineers download the data and integrate it into high-performance computer systems. You should read things from the data that a person could hardly discover due to the amount of data.
Your job is likely to change soon – for the better, Director of Development Michael Steiner is sure. The Porsche Development Center in Weissach is the first company site in Europe to have its own network with the fastest wireless technology currently available: 5G. Fast means above all reacting quickly, and anyone who knows a little about it already knows what it is: a 5G network in which the whole chain – from the antennas to the core network – supports this new standard. This has not yet been the case at many 5G sites, as 4G and 5G technologies are used together.
Autonomous 5G has become a technical term for it – a word Hannes Ametsreiter doesn’t particularly like. Ametsreiter is the head of Vodafone Germany, which has a long-standing partnership with Porsche. Something like super fast 5G, he would probably like that better. Ametsreiter is downright excited about what this new technology could mean in automotive manufacturing: “There will be fewer accidents,” he says. If the cars are running autonomously at any given time, high quality entertainment can also be provided with the powerful radio technology. And the problem of software updates can also be solved with.
Near real-time transmission
Of course, Michael Steiner also has all of this in mind. But even more: “It is not only a question of customer functions”, he specifies in an interview, “but also of use in the development of vehicles”. Data from the test vehicles, which previously could only be evaluated offline, will in the future be transferred to the developers’ screens almost in real time while the vehicle is in motion – images from the cameras and data from the various sensors. The folks at Steiner are already thinking about how they want to monitor prototypes during testing, how they can change settings live, and – with the development teams on the screens – continue troubleshooting. Steiner can also imagine virtual prototypes, “I hope the two worlds can work in parallel soon”.
But none of this would work if it weren’t for computers capable of processing this information at maximum speed. For this to be possible, these computers must be very close to the mobile telephony stations, at the edge of the network. In technical terminology, this is called the Edge Multi-Access Cloud.
Such computers near mobile phone stations can not only help with testing. They are also seen as a solution for providing significantly better in-car services than they are now, says Hannes Ametsreiter: “Cars today are limited by the computing power on board – a fast computer that calculates almost in real time, and network speed could change that. “For Porsche, the cloud near the six radio stations on the company’s approximately 100-hectare site also offers another advantage: the data does not leave the site.
However, residents of the Porsche site also benefit from the new network. It was built as a public grid – near Weissach, where it is still quite rural, Germany’s fastest connected milk cans should now be located. But how does it work together, the public network and the internal network of the company? It also works with pure 5G technology. It allows the network to be virtually divided, which experts call network slicing. Part of the network is therefore only accessible to Porsche. And thanks to Edge Cloud, the data also remains at Porsche in Weissach – the automaker has virtually nothing more valuable to lose than data on new vehicles.
Development manager Steiner has high expectations of new technology and believes that a lot will only become apparent when it is used in regular operation: “The creativity is just beginning.” He agrees with mobile operator Ametsreiter that many functions could be outsourced from cars to a fast cloud. But, Steiner also limits, it is necessary to proceed step by step. And one thing still applies anyway: “The car has to be inherently safe. This means: even if the mobile network goes down or the connection is bad, security must be guaranteed. “ESP is not moved to the backend,” he says, half serious, half joking.
In a hall in Weissach, Vodafone and Porsche have installed a small demonstrator to show how quickly the new network reacts. A human moves a robotic arm. And an arm of the same construction mimics its movement without noticeable delay. Could the technology also be used in production? Basically yes, says Hannes Ametsreiter. But this requires a new stage of extension of the 5G standard.
Response time: nine to ten milliseconds
The way it is now used in Weissach achieves response times of nine to ten milliseconds, which is four times faster than the radio technology used previously. For robots, however, they want shorter response times, but 5G will be able to provide them as well. The goal: one millisecond, or one thousandth of a second.
When the time comes, technology can also help make traffic safer. The cars must then warn each other. Vodafone and Porsche also demonstrated this with card service provider Here in Weissach. A car in the opposite lane warns an oncoming vehicle that a pedestrian behind a bus is heading towards the middle of the street. However, for such a warning system to work, a lot of things need to be in place. Here, for example, not only evaluates the GPS data, but also the cell phone data for the required accuracy. The systems must be able to communicate with each other, only the drivers of the cars concerned must be warned. Until this works in real traffic, many Porsches will probably still be doing many laps on the test tracks.