Welcome to AUTOPILOT Interview Series! Today we are glad to talk about Digital Twin with NEC Lab, one of our consortium partners. Enjoy the reading!

Meeting the partner: NEC Laboratories Europe GmbH (NLE)

NEC Laboratories Europe GmbH (NLE) is the European research lab of NEC Corporation, which is located in Tokyo, Japan. For more than 20 years we have been carrying out research in Europe for the European market and with European partners. NLE is located in Heidelberg, Germany, and works on the following research topics: 5G, Data Science, Security (including Blockchain), AI, and IoT platforms. Within IoT, we are focusing on advancing IoT technology to deal with the future hyper-connected society which is based on the data economy as we see it today. IoT is the catalyst for the digital transformation of Smart Cities, Smart Industries, and Smart Mobility. Besides research, we are working on standardization as well as on transforming research ideas into innovations for our customers. Our vision is a society in which a sensible use of IoT helps to achieve a new level of quality-of-life, safety, and sustainability.

NLE in AUTOPILOT: what is your role?

AUTOPILOT is an exciting project that makes the benefits of IoT available for connected cars and especially for autonomous driving cars. We fully understand that an autonomous car needs to independently react to all situations on the street and then safely master them. Nowadays there are thousands of sensors in your car that deliver useful information to the driver, the road, the smart city, as well as to the autonomous car itself. Within the set of Large Scale Pilots, AUTOPILOT is collaborating with, for example, SynchroniCity to ensure such information can be utilized. An IoT platform has the task to take the raw data, produce contextualized and understandable information out of this data, and provide this information in the right format to the car. We think that the use of IoT can improve the safety of autonomous cars, the protection of vulnerable roadside users, as well as create new values through using autonomous driving cars in new services and products. The ultimate goal of AUTOPILOT is to make the car a full – and important – member of the Internet-of-Things. NLE’s goal in AUTOPILOT is to guide this integration of Autonomous Cars into the IoT and especially into Smart Cities. The task comprises different levels of architectural questions, from realization challenges to new questions about novel services and respective business models. We are doing this by following the open innovation principles that a single company could not do on their own. We need to work together with the experts and specialists from the other companies who bring their unique expertise and background into the project. Our core concept for this is to jointly develop the Digital Twin concept for IoT and to apply this to autonomous driving cars.

Can you explain the Digital Twin concept for autonomous driving cars?

As explained, we want to make the car a full member of the IoT. It is shortsighted to consider only the networking aspects of IoT for this task. LTE-V2X together with the oneM2M protocol stack can connect sensors and actuators to the network. With those standards, a car is able to send and receive data from their neighboring cars, from the roadside or from the cloud. But this is not enough. We actually need contextualized and useful information delivered to humans and services. This can be compared to the evolution of the Web. The Web took off when the data transport protocols were established and the focus was shifted to services useable for end-users as well as for enterprises. New business models like E-Commerce, Search, Social Networks, and Cloud were established on top of the data networks. They are now driving the technological development in many areas. Similarly we expect that connected car services will take off when IoT will provide the needed service enablers and application functions. In AUTOPILOT we are capturing this with the notion of a Digital Twin. Each thing of the real world will have a digital representation – its Digital Twin. These Digital Twins will not only capture the internal state of the real twin, but they will form a new service layer which will make it easy to discover Digital/Real Twins in the vicinity, to interact with those Twins, and to build up services that use thousands of Digital Twins and the data they provide. The Digital Twin will enhance the features of the Real Twin by providing electronic services, AI functions, simulations-based optimizations, as well as intelligent reactions to real work changes. Here we are getting back to cars. The Digital Twin of the car will provide a plethora of additional services to the cars users, e.g. in the area of safety, or in the business area. A service invoked on the Digital Twin of the car can instruct the real car to form a platoon with other cars in the vicinity. A Digital Twin of the car can interact with the Digital Twin of the highway to see whether the emergency lane is free and could be used as an extra lane for autonomous driven cars. You see that this will enable many new services, safety and comfort for the autonomous driving cars.

How are you driving the uptake of Digital Twins technology?

First, as usual in our today’s fast developing technological world, we are building on the work of our predecessors. The EU has established the Connecting Europe Facilities to create a Digital Single Market in Europe. This is of particular importance for Autonomous Cars as they will drive across Europe. They need to use the same services wherever they go. At the same time, they will integrate into cooperative systems, e.g. for optimizing mobility problems, for finding parking, or many other solutions in which cooperation between participants will improve the quality of the results. In Europe, the EU has selected the Context Broker technology as an element of the Connected Europe Facility. Those context broker technology was developed in the FIWARE PPP. NEC is very proud to have contributed significantly to the design and standardization of this technology. Context information describes the status of the various entities in a city, on the road, and in the buildings. This context information is delivering the data layer of Digital Twins. We are very happy that the AUTOPILOT project was very much involved in creating the ETSI Industrial Specification Group on Context Information Management (ETSI ISG CIM). This body is creating the new NGSI-LD standard for context information exchange using knowledge graphs and a publish/subscribe APIs. AUTOPILOT has contributed the AUTOPILOT data models for connected cars. Furthermore, within AUTOPILOT we are also advancing the Context Broker technology towards a new broker for NGSI-LD that is able to create Digital Twins of cars.

Why would this particular aspect be one of the contributions from AUTOPILOT that NEC would like to promote?

As already mentioned, we are delighted to have developed the concept of Digital Twins, the new standard for context information management, and to have created a first system that is also implemented in AUTOPILOT. Using knowledge extraction technologies, we will be able to utilize IoT information as part of context information. We are also very happy to have contributed to the advancement of the safety and usefulness of autonomous cars. We have conducted experiments in the AUTOPILOT test sites that are utilizing IoT devices together with advanced AI-based analytics to determine the current situation on the road as well as to optimize the behaviour of the car. This shows that we can extend the electronic horizon of the car with IoT and allow them to react very proactively to the situation on the roads even outside of their normal sensor ranges.

How do you see the impact of AUTOPILOT on the IoT market and the future of European competitiveness in the mobility and transport sector?

AUTOPILOT is part of the set of Large Scale Pilots for IoT in Europe. We have a unique position in these sets of projects, since we are looking at important IoT objects CAR, which can autonomously move and act on behalf of their users. Here AUTOPILOT is creating and verifying a lot of insights into how to build the future IoT platform for Europe, how to use IoT technology, how to make Smart Cities fit for autonomous driving cars, and what we can expect once the car is equipped with Digital Twins and available to create new services and businesses. But AUTOPILOT is also very instrumental in identifying the gaps in technology, regulations, politics, economics, standardization, and security that need to be filled to make autonomous driving cars a reality in Europe.