DLR Unveils Autonomous Electric U-Shift Concept Vehicle

The German Aerospace Center has envisioned a future of multi-purpose adaptable transport vehicles.
Chris Young

The German Aerospace Center, or Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt (DLR), has unveiled a functioning prototype for a multi-purpose urban mobility and logistics vehicle called U-Shift.

In a press release, the DLR explained that it is "breathing new life into future urban mobility and logistics" with the U-Shift, which will be made up of an electric and autonomous U-shaped drive unit that is attached to separate modules depending on the user's necessity.

The model is designed to work around the clock, allowing companies to call it to action for different tasks as soon as it is needed.


On-demand multi-purpose mobility

The DLR describes its U-Shift, which was presented at the Interim Conference of the Strategic Dialogue for the Automotive Sector in Stuttgart last week, as a "vehicle [that] has a wide range of applications as an on-demand shuttle, a high-tech on-call bus, a versatile distribution center for goods and parcels, or as a mobile sales vehicle."

What's more, the "U-shaped drive unit contains all of the valuable technical components and systems needed for autonomous, electric and quiet travel," the DLR explains in its press release.

DLR Unveils Autonomous Electric U-Shift Concept Vehicle
Source: DLR (CC-By 3.0)

The drive unit is built to work around the clock if needed, whilst the modules are designed to be much more economical so that companies can essentially pick and choose the options they need, and potentially experiment if they need to.

DLR Unveils Autonomous Electric U-Shift Concept Vehicle
Source: DLR (CC-By 3.0)

The public transport module, for example, has seven seats, an extra folding seat, and a large door with an integrated ramp for wheelchair access. The cargo capsule, meanwhile, "has space for four Euro pallets or eight barred rolling cabinets," the DLR explains.

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The U-Shift prototype, which is comparable in size to a van, is currently remote controlled. However, in the future, it will be able to travel completely autonomously.

Building the 'mobile world of tomorrow'

"We want to make tomorrow’s mobility more sustainable, effective and convenient," explains Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Baden-Württemberg Minister for Economic Affairs. "Entirely new products and business models can emerge from futuristic innovations such as the U-Shift vehicle concept.

"It is essential that we support our small and medium-sized enterprises in Baden-Württemberg during the automotive industry’s transformation process and help them find a new role in the field of future vehicle concepts and mobility solutions," Hoffmeister-Kraut continues. "The modular approach opens up a lot of opportunities in this area."

DLR Unveils Autonomous Electric U-Shift Concept Vehicle
Source: DLR (CC-By 3.0)

The researchers at DLR are using the prototype to run initial tests and to get feedback from potential operators and manufacturers. They are also seeking feedback from citizens in order to determine different use cases for the U-Shift in the public and private sectors.

The next big step, the researchers say, is to increase the performance of the drivetrain, test a new battery system, install hardware and sensors for automated and connected driving, and improve the build of the chassis and lifting device.

DLR Unveils Autonomous Electric U-Shift Concept Vehicle
Source: DLR (CC-By 3.0)

"With the modular U-Shift concept, we are taking significant steps towards the mobility transformation," says Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport. "Prototypes are extremely important, especially for the adoption of innovative concepts by the automotive industry, or logistics and mobility service providers. They allow researchers and future users to truly experience and help to improve the mobile world of tomorrow."

The DLR aims to have a second, fully automated prototype ready for 2024. This should be capable of reaching 60 kilometers per hour and will bring the world one step closer to the aerospace firm's vision of multi-purpose on-demand mobility.

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