During the 2022 Formula Student Electric Germany competition, Fabian Schmid watched anxiously as his team’s self-driving race car careened unexpectedly right, veering off the track before overcorrecting and heading for a concrete barrier wall. A year’s worth of work seemed to be speeding toward a season-ending disaster when, in a last-minute reprieve, the car stopped safely, with mere metres to spare.
This exciting diversion, however, was only one small setback in a successful season for Fabian’s team – in fact the most successful in the team’s history.
“I didn’t view it as a bad experience,” says Fabian. “We learned a lot and we still had fun.”
Not to mention, they placed second overall in the competition.
Comprised of students from the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) Stuttgart in southwestern Germany, the team placed in the top three in several of Europe’s most competitive events and earned a worldwide top ten ranking. In this profile, Fabian shares more of his experiences from the autonomous racing world, and how HxGN SmartNet helped support the driverless technologies he and his team designed, built, and competed with.
Photo by © DHBW Engineering Stuttgart e.V.
What is Formula Student Electric?
First raced in 2010, Formula Student Electric is a driverless race car competition that takes place worldwide. University engineering student teams create and race self-driving, electric-powered formula style cars in a range of events. Educational and interdisciplinary in focus, the competition not only tests the dynamic performance of the cars, but also factors in design, costs, manufacturing, and a business plan evaluated by industry experts.
Needing to cover a range of specialisations, Fabian’s team, DHBW Engineering Stuttgart, was comprised of nearly 90 members, clustered into smaller groups of expertise, such as aerodynamics, battery, system electronics, vehicle dynamics, and – Fabian’s area – autonomous system. In fact, he served as the head of the Autonomous System group.
Image by © DHBW Engineering Stuttgart e.V.
SmartNet Network RTK corrections augment positioning accuracy for autonomous driving
The team’s car, the eSleek22, included an autonomous system featuring a fusion of camera and LiDAR along with positioning data from a Novatel PwrPak7D high precision GNSS receiver. High-accuracy, real-time corrections of the GNSS data were needed to enable effective navigation on the track.
Photo by © DHBW Engineering Stuttgart e.V.
“We must locate ourselves in the environment for the car to understand where it is and perform,” explains Fabian. “However, just a normal GPS would not be accurate enough, so we needed an RTK system. Through a sponsorship from Hexagon, we used HxGN SmartNet network RTK corrections service for our autonomous systems, along with Novatel GNSS receivers.”
Functioning effectively throughout the season and without any latency issues, DHBW Engineering benefited from access to HxGN SmartNet’s extensive reference station network, providing the high accuracy the autonomous system required.
Hard working and high ranking
While all teams work hard to perform competitively at Student Formula events, few teams must work as hard as the highly ranked team from DHBW Stuttgart.
“What’s special about our team is that we are from a cooperative state university, which means that everyone from our university works and studies full time. We have jobs and, in cooperation with our employers, we study” Fabian explains.
Their limited free time evenings and weekends is dedicated to preparing for competitions. By contrast, many of the other Formula Student participants are full-time students who can dedicate two semesters or more to their university’s team.
“It’s an added difficulty for us,” remarks Fabian.” But I think it’s remarkable that, even with this extra hurdle, we’re still one of the best teams in the world.”
Despite these challenges, during Fabian’s season, the DHBW Stuttgart team had their strongest performances, taking 1st place at Formula Student Netherlands, 3rd place at Formula Student Austria, and 2nd place at Formula Student Germany.
“It’s nice to win, of course, and I was really happy about all our successes at different events. But in the end, what I enjoyed most was working in a team, and everything I learned and was able to do.”
Autonomous Systems Expert (2022)
Formula Student Electric Driverless Racing