SEAT, the Universitat Politecnica de Cataluna (UPC) and Volkswagen Group research are kicking off CARNET – cooperative automotive research network, the first major research and innovation hub to focus on the automotive field and urban mobility of the future of Barcelona. This knowledge and cooperation platform between industry and university has selected the city as a proving ground to test new technological solutions and concepts that will improve the quality of life of the members of the community in the field of mobility.

Some of the CARNET initiatives currently underway include a project involving microcities or new, multimodal hubs and stations for mobility and urban transport, an app for locating parking spaces and a ride-sharing platform. Through this network of cooperation in innovation and research into urban mobility in Barcelona, university and industry create a common front to create, develop and implement innovative technology aimed at addressing the challenges of future urban lifestyles: new mobility systems and new, more efficient ways of using vehicles.

UPC rector Enric Fossas said that this partnership "originated in the SEAT chair of the UPC, an academic entity that has evolved towards more transversal action: an industry and university network that, operating in a city such as Barcelona, is an opportunity to promote new ideas and carry out urban projects on the leading edge of knowledge, some of which with the participation by UPC students and post-graduate students."

"The automotive industry targets three areas for innovation: electrification, the connected car and autonomous driving, and all three will lead us to new concepts in mobility. The future of the industry depends on research and innovation", points out SEAT vice-president for R&D Dr. Matthias Rabe. "SEAT wants to be a leading brand in the development of new mobility solutions and CARNET is our commitment to creating the urban mobility of the future in Barcelona, the city that serves as the inspiration for our vehicles."

"Mobility in the automotive sector is undergoing a paradigm shift and new skills and technologies will be needed in the future," asserts Volkswagen Group research executive director professor Dr. Jurgen Leohold. "Through CARNET, Volkswagen Group research aims to develop ideas and promote projects in Barcelona, one of the most attractive smart cities for the study of mobility."

By 2050 the 70% of the world's population will live in cities

As a result of the increasing urban migration of recent years, cities all over the planet are getting bigger and the trend in sprawling megacities seems unstoppable. A transformation and revolution in urban living is expected, which will require us to rethink mobility from global perspectives that integrate all components: infrastructures, traffic systems, vehicle use and resources such as energy, space and time, which are increasingly limited.

The challenges facing metropolitan areas and vehicle manufacturers can be seen in trends such as smart cities, where urban services are being improved and becoming more efficient by exploiting the distributed control of highly sensorised equipment and infrastructure. It is also reflected in connected driving, which enables online services and mobile communication among vehicles, for safer, more efficient driving.

In this context, some of the projects begun by CARNET are already transforming the way people drive and are on their way to revolutionising urban mobility: apps giving the best routes and transport options, intelligent traffic and transport management systems, mobility assistive robots or innovative communications and connectivity systems, among others, which will turn metropolitan areas into more intelligent spaces that are better to live in. At the same time, new car-sharing platforms and flexible, on-demand, door to door public transport systems are being studied to facilitate mobility and save time and resources.

From Barcelona to the world

Recognised as one of the world's top 10 smart cities, Barcelona is an excellent testing ground for different mobility models and technologies, as the city gathers extensive data on traffic patterns, parking spaces and air pollution through sensors installed on streetlights.

CARNET is working on several projects and is studying their future implementation in Barcelona:

  • Microcities: This is a project to turn traditional parking spaces, both dedicated as those associated with large-scale amenities, shopping centres and service hubs in urban and metropolitan settings, public service facilities, transportation facilities and mobility. In these microcities, transport infrastructure combines with service areas for vehicles, parking and user services. They provide maximum accessibility to the city's main points of interest, as they also operate as multimodal exchanges close to trains, metro, bicycles, vehicle sharing and electric cars. The system has been studied to implement it in Barcelona, by creating an information recording and visualising system amounting to an interactive map for locating the main microcity spaces. The project has been jointly developed by a team at the UPC's department of urbanism and territorial planning linked to the Valles Advanced Technical School of Architecture (ETSAV), SEAT and Volkswagen Group research, and can be replicated in several modern metropolitan regions.
  • Parkfinder: A vehicle-integrated app that finds available parking spaces in real time using information provided by the European project platform iCity within the smart city framework. Once the user selects a destination, the prototype communicates with the car's navigation system and provides the driver with the approximate distance and estimated time of arrival to the selected location. In order to guarantee safe use while driving, a user interface has been developed that fulfils the strict 'drive distraction rules.' The prototype has been successfully tested in Barcelona's Les Corts district. SEAT and the inLab of the UPC's IT faculty, a member of the university's Centre for Innovation and Technology (CIT UPC), participated in the development.
  • Urban Co-Car: This project focuses on analysing and assessing the impact of a multiple-user shared vehicle system, efficiently exploiting the fact that their routes fully or partially coincide. Sustainable mobility is not only a question of technology, new automotive technology and IT and communication (TIC) apps, combined with a changing social paradigm involving shifting from vehicle ownership to vehicle use enable any user to access mobility services that allow them to go anywhere at any time. Designed in the university's IT faculty using simulation models, the project addresses how to access the system, how to manage the fleet, how to assign services and how to increase route flexibility, among many other issues.
  • Creative lab: This is a pioneering university-business teaching initiative in Spain. Its goal is to get students to generate new ideas that redesign the concept of urban vehicle and develop a new concept of urban mobility. The first edition of this laboratory was held last year at the UPC's Terrassa School of Industrial, Aerospace and Audiovisual Engineering school, where multi-disciplinary teams of students worked on different challenges proposed by SEAT and Volkswagen Group research engineers, led and tutored by the school's professors and company professionals. Ultimately, the company evaluated the feasibility of the projects.

Research, training and cooperation

Collaborative research, the training of engineers and scientists, and participation in international networks are the three main pillars of CARNET's activity.

Taking into account the increase in traffic, pollution and parking problems in cities, the hub conducts research into the design of new vehicle concepts. At the same time, new approaches into urban navigation are considered. Other major areas of research are the transport of people and goods as well as its economic, environmental and social impact.

On the issue of training and participating in international networks, CARNET seeks to establish bridges of cooperation among universities and industry and provide students with job placement opportunities, as well as help stimulate students into completing PhD theses related to research projects with industrial interest through the programme of industrial doctoral degrees.

A collaboration of companies

CARNET originated as an initiative of the SEAT chair in the UPC, is coordinated by the university's Centre for Innovation and Technology (CIT UPC), and has the support of several business partners including Altran, Applus + Idiada, Ficosa , RACC and Rucker Lypsa. The presentation of CARNET falls within the framework of the seminar creating the urban mobility of the future delivered by UPC rector Enric Fossas, SEAT vice-president for R&D Dr. Matthias Rabe, and Volkswagen Group research executive director professor Dr. Jurgen Leohold, with participation by the Barcelona council's councillor for mobility Mercedes Vidal, CARNET industrial director and SEAT manager of innovation and alternative mobility Dr. Christoph Waller and CARNET academic director and UPC professor emeritus Jaume Barcelo.