How Prof. Jivka Ovtcharova and her research team are taking driving simulation to the next level in a technology transfer project together with Chinese partners.

"Practice makes perfect," as the saying goes. This applies, for example, to the driving practice of novice drivers. Traffic in large cities with potential traffic chaos, especially during rush hour, can put many a learner driver under a great deal of stress and lead to driving errors. "Dry runs" in a driving simulator can help to gain the first driving experince without pressure. Chinese driving schools are ahead of the curve here: to obtain a driving license, virtual driving lessons in a simulator are mandatory in addition to practical driving lessons. This is a viable solution to simultaneaously meet the increasing demand for driving. By using a simulator, learner drivers can approach and practice traffic situations and hand movements. However, a virtual driving lesson will only have the desired learning effect if learner drivers complete the simulation under the most realistic conditions possible.

The DriveSim (Driving Simulator) technology transfer project headed by Prof. Jivka Ovtcharova at the KIT Institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI) started on this premise. Together with their research team, Chinese partners TuoBaBa Technology (TBB) and Jiangyin Sino-German Technology Transfer Center, they built an intelligent, sophisticated driving simulator for use in driving schools. "I have been working with virtual reality since the 1990s, but only now has the time come for the technology to be used in industrial applications," believes Prof. Ovtcharova, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and computer science. The developed driving simulator is a good example of application-oriented research and the direct use of research results.

"Driving simulators available on the market are usually more like computer games," says project coordinator Polina Häfner, "and they are also not well prepared for use in driving lessons from a didactic point of view." The scientists are implementing their vision of a high-quality solution within DriveSim: A human-machine interface that enhances the perception of reality with interactive, virtual content. The result is a realistic driving experience with the tools of a real motor vehicle. "When driving in the simulator, an algorithm builds up the adjacent environment in real time as an image of the real world, based on real data from geographic information systems (GIS)," explains Häfner. Projections around the vehicle provide a view of the three-dimensional virtual world. A control unit in the vehicle connects the non-motorized vehicle with Drive-Sim, whereby every interaction of the driver with the vehicle is mirrored into the virtual world on the one hand and can be felt through force feedback on the other. A training app completes the DriveSim learning environment, allowing driving instructors and students to generate changing driving environments and configure individual traffic exercises.

"The integration of professional information management and high-end visualizations offers opportunities beyond the field of driving simulation," emphasizes Prof. Ovtcharova. The research groups at IMI therefore aim to use virtual reality to enable an innovative working environment and competitive advantages for industrial companies, especially in the broad field of product and process development. "We value close collaboration with industrial companies that ensure immediate practical relevance. This gives us important impetus for new research fields and problems. I am convinced that innovation comes from within. The students who develop creative and practically relevant ideas during our internships constantly prove this to me. Even with a small budget, you can achieve a lot; personal motivation is crucial."

Virtual Driving Instructor for Megacities

Prof. Jivka Ovtcharova and her research group "Smart Immersive Environments" from KIT's Institute of Information Management in Engineering (IMI) have developed a virtual driving instructor for driving schools in China together with Chinese development partners TuoBaBa Technology (TBB) and the Jiangyin Sino-German Technology Transfer Center. A converted vehicle and sophisticated projection technology enable realistic driving exercises in a driving simulator. The DriveSim technology transfer project implemented a complete platform with software and hardware as well as corresponding interfaces to the vehicle. KIT was in charge of the hardware configuration and software solution, whereas the Chinese partners prepared the server infrastructure on site, the remote maintenance, and the application for mobile devices.

You can read the full report on the technology transfer project in KIT's innovation newsletter RESEARCH TO BUSINESS.



The "Industrie 4.0 Collaboration Lab", located in the premises of the LESC (Lifecycle Engineering Solutions Center) at KIT offers a seamless IT infrastructure for testing technologies and processes under the sign of Industrie 4.0. The Lab opened back in September 2014 in cooperation with SolidLine AG, Bechtle IT-Systemhaus Karlsruhe, and other industry partners as well as the FZI Research Center for Information Technology and is designed as a test environment.

LESC website:


The hardware and software environment provided in the Lab SMEs in particular the opportunity to get to know the options and opportunities of Industrie 4.0 technologies in the form of 3D environments in virtual and augmented reality. Until now, these companies have often been reluctant to invest in new technologies whose advantages are not immediately apparent. However, topics related to Industry 4.0 are also of great importance for SMEs from a strategic point of view, such as maintaining the necessary digital infrastructure, networking production in real time or automated control of production processes.


The "Industrie 4.0 Collaboration Lab" allows promising ideas and technology projects to be jointly implemented in collaboration with business and research. SMEs can test product ideas in the test environment at an early stage and familiarize themselves with working in 3D environments. In the test and qualification lab, companies can run through scenarios using their real data sets. IT solutions for their own business model are developed together with the researchers, thus demonstrating the benefit of Industrie 4.0. It is also possible to provide further training for company employees, wether technicians and engineers or managing directors.

Prof. Jivka Ovtcharova (right) and Polina Häfner (left)


Prof. Ovtcharova has been with KIT since 2003. As a graduate engineer with two doctorates in mechanical engineering and computer science, she stands out or her expertise in information and data management in the manufacturing industry. She specializes in virtual engineering, i.e. information technology support of innovative product development and production. In 2014, as head of the Institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI) at KIT, she founded the Lifecycle Engineering Solutions Center (LESC), equipped with modern virtual reality technologies. IMI’ current research results and IT solutions are implemented, validated, and demonstrated in various laboratories at the LESC. Her scientific merits were honored, among others, by an honorary doctorate from Sophia University of Technology in 2011. Since 2004, Prof. Ovtcharova is also the director of the Research Center for Informatics Karlsruhe (FZI).

Prof. Ovtcharova has many years of practical experience in the industry, including as Head of the Process and Systems Integration Center (PSIC) at General Motors Europe, wher she focused on product lifecycle management, product data and workflow management, product configuration and virtual prototyping.



From September 2004 to March 2009, Polina Häfner studied computer science following the Karlsruhe curriculum at the Faculty of German Engineering and Business Administration Education (FDIBA) at the Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria. She then continued her studies at KIT and graduated in 2012 with a diploma in computer science. During this time, she already worked as a research assistant at the Institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI). Her diploma thesis "Development of an intuitive, easy-to-use human-machine interface for immersive environments" dealt with one of the weak points of virtual reality - interaction.

From 2012, Häfner continued her scientific career at KIT and has since been a research associate at IMI. She is mainly involved in basic and contract research in the field of virtual reality and human-machine interface, in particular Immersive 3D Visualization and Virtual Learning Environments. Currently, Häfner is involved in the projects DriveSim and dimenSion and is teaching the practical course "Virtual Reality /Engineering" for students at IMI, for which she developed the teaching concept.

Since 2009, Häfner is giving presentations on virtual reality at national and international conferences and has received two best paper awards.

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