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How to conduct a pilot trial during a pandemic L3Pilot partners continue testing despite COVID-19 crisis

The user is in the centre of all L3Pilot studies, trials, and research. And so they are during the COVID-19 pandemic – in a special and unanticipated way. Our vehicles were fully equipped, ready to go and piloting had just started. But then, in the second quarter of the year 2020, the pandemic threatened the execution of the pilot studies. How could driving a car be realised while still keeping all drivers safe?

Protecting safety and health of the participants in the L3Pilot tests has been a top priority in the project at the time of a pandemic. Therefore, partners took individual measures to meet the needs of the project and the people who became test drivers at the same time.

Yet, some challenges had to be overcome. Partners modified the vehicles to be COVID-19-compliant. For some pilot sites, in order to collect meaningful in-cabin video data, the facial expressions of the subjects needed to be recorded. In this case, it was necessary to complete the test drives without a mask. So, separating foils were used to isolate the driver and passenger areas from each other. Additionally, special ventilation concepts were developed. For interviews inside rooms with test drivers using a tablet, gloves and masks were distributed and the distance between participants was ensured.

All vehicle owners in L3Pilot took the effort to make sure they could meet the project goals. “It shows the outstanding commitment of our partners that we managed to pursue piloting and the related targets despite the COVID-19 situation”, says L3Pilot Co-ordinator Aria Etemad, Volkswagen AG.

After the lock-down in spring 2020, all pilots managed to restart in September and October last year, driving during the winter. Partners succeeded in generating some 750 test drivers for 400,000 kilometres driven in seven countries across Europe.