Cars in ad hoc networks warn each other of dangers ahead
Traffic lights and road signs communicate with the vehicle
Smartphones and vehicle infotainment systems are converging
Cars and homes share information and energy
Access to the entire Internet from the vehicle – via secure Volkswagen servers
GPS positioning is becoming even more accurate
The car of the future is part of the Internet of Things, where machines exchange information with each other. Engineers and computer scientists at Volkswagen are working on networking technologies that make driving more comfortable, safer and kinder to the environment. And they themselves are also part of a Group-wide network.
The door closes with a satisfying clunk. Fasten the seatbelt, insert the ignition key, turn on the engine, engage gear – and off you go. That’s how most car journeys used to start at the beginning of this century. One or two more movements have been added in the meantime: take your smartphone out of your pocket, insert it in a holder or simply place it in the central console. And program the navigation system, of course – even when the driver knows how to get to the destination, just in case there is a traffic holdup somewhere. Only then is the engine started – more and more often nowadays, this is done by simply pressing a button.
Smartphones have changed people’s day-to-day lives. In 2013, some 40 percent of all Germans owned a smartphone, and just one year later that figure had risen to 50 percent – and it is still growing. In the introduction to his famous essay “The Computer for the 21st Century”, published in 1991, computer scientist and internet visionary Mark Weiser wrote: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” The smartphone has undoubtedly developed into this type of technology, with far-reaching consequences. People who are used to being “always on” don’t want to miss out when they are in a car.
Despite the profound nature of this change, it comes as no surprise to Volkmar Tanneberger. With a doctorate in engineering, he is head of Group-wide electrical and electronic development at Volkswagen. He was already working on networking 20 years ago. “Networking meant something different in those days”, explains Tanneberger. “Initially it meant networking the individual control devices inside a vehicle to ensure the best possible interplay between engine, transmission and chassis.” That meant, for example, preventing the wheels from spinning when starting the car on snow by reducing engine torque and activating the brake at the same time.
These functions are still carefully developed for each new model in the Volkswagen Group today. But nowadays Tanneberger turns his attention to a different type of networking: linking the vehicle to its surrounding environment. “By 2020, we expect all new cars supplied by us to have an Internet connection.” The car with its own IP address will become part of the Internet of Things, opening the door to continuous information exchange. Up-to-the-minute information about traffic flows is fed into the navigation system. A driver looking for a parking space can be directed to a car parking lot with free places. Many other Internet-based functions designed to make driving easier are under development. For example, future navigation systems will be able to indicate the chances of finding a parking space in nearby streets.
It is not just the car of the future itself which is intelligent and networked; it will also interact closely with the driver’s smartphone. “Quite simply, our customers expect to be able to use certain functions of their mobile devices in their car too”, says Tanneberger. Volkswagen is therefore working closely with Apple and Google on communication standards between the smartphone operating systems and the vehicle infotainment systems. This means that certified apps can be shown on the central console display and used safely. The first cars with these features will appear in 2015. In addition, the MirrorLink standard makes this type of communication possible independently of the phone operating system. It is already available today in the Volkswagen Polo1 and the ŠKODA Fabia2, among other vehicles.
“Our customers expect to be able to use certain functions of their mobile devices in their car too.”
Dr. Volkmar Tanneberger, Head of Electrical and Electronic Development, Volkswagen Group
The convergence of automotive and entertainment electronics presents Volkswagen’s developers with an enormous challenge. Whereas a vehicle’s lifetime is around seven years, new smartphones come onto the market every year and their operating systems are constantly being updated. Processor capacity, the most important technical requirement for fast calculations and ever more sophisticated graphics, is increasing all the time. The Volkswagen Group’s response to short IT innovation cycles is the Modular Infotainment System (Modularer Infotainment Baukasten – MIB). This is being developed by Audi and Volkswagen and will feature in all of the Group’s brands in the future.
Audi intends to prove that its “Vorsprung durch Technik” credentials also apply to integrating the Internet into its cars, and so it is responsible for developing the high and premium versions of the MIB. In partnership with the Finnish corporation Elektrobit, Audi already established a company called e.solutions to develop infotainment services several years ago. Managing Director Dr. Riclef Schmidt-Clausen explains the motivation behind it: “Developing our own infotainment toolkit enables us to put together the best hardware and software components.” For that reason, the operating system, functions and graphical user interface are kept systematically separate from each other in the MIB software. The modular principle means that individual program components can be combined and adapted to a particular vehicle model.
“We develop in-house those components that affect customer perception”, says Schmidt-Clausen. That includes the user interface in particular; programming this accounts for almost half the code. Here too, the actual graphics are kept separate from the functions – i.e. what happens when the driver gives a particular command. This is why the infotainment toolkit can be used by different Group brands. The buttons and screen display may look very different, but the same state-of-the-art computer technology is hidden underneath.
The MIB is being installed in more and more Group models. To do that, the software must be adapted to each country’s particular version of the MIB, which can vary not only in terms of language, but also user philosophy. “A modern infotainment system is made up of over 2,000 different screen displays and over twelve million lines of software code”, explains Schmidt-Clausen. “We are only able to cope with this level of complexity because a majority of the programs can be used over and over.” Nevertheless, every single version is thoroughly tested before being released for series production.
“Our own infotainment toolkit enables us to put together the best hardware and software components.”
Dr. Riclef Schmidt-Clausen, Managing Director e.solutions
The MIB’s hardware design is also modular. The basic idea is to divide hardware into two assemblies. One comprises components that develop more gradually, such as amplifiers or vehicle networking. The other is a high-performance circuit board fitted with the fastest available processors. This is updated with the latest state-of-the-art technology without having to redesign the whole device. As a result, a customer purchasing a new car always gets the maximum processing capacity available.
Audi is going one step further by producing its very first tablet developed in-house. It gives back seat passengers a mobile entertainment device that is fully networked with the vehicle and in addition uses a Wi-Fi hotspot to access the Internet from inside the car. Schmidt-Clausen proudly shows his visitors a prototype. “Turn it towards the light. There’s no reflection.” But the matt screen mounted in its milled aluminum case is not the only thing that distinguishes the Audi tablet from other electronic entertainment systems on the market. The Smart Display must meet the same safety standards as all the vehicle’s other interior components. This means that the screen glass cannot shatter if there is an accident.
Peter Behrendt, Managing Director of Volkswagen Infotainment GmbH, is also working on networked vehicles. In the middle of 2014, Volkswagen took over Blackberry’s European development center located on the Ruhr University campus in Bochum, Germany. The experienced engineer who used to be responsible for manufacturing cables and automobile electrical systems, among other things, enjoys surprising his developer colleagues. “An automobile is really just another mobile device”, he says, adding after a pause, “At least, that’s what my 16-year-old nephew thinks.” For the car to remain attractive to future generations of customers, it will have to become an internet node and act as a data traffic interface.
Volkswagen is also expanding its capacity for developing infotainment and networking elsewhere – in Berlin, for example, at the Group’s Carmeq subsidiary, which is also Behrendt’s responsibility. “Berlin is a very attractive place for us to recruit creative young people” – not just to expand capacity, but also to attract the very best experts. A small team at Carmeq, for example, is working on a new form of voice-operated control system that does away with the need for the user to spend hours learning the commands. Engineers call this technology “natural language voice control”. The driver speaks to the vehicle as if it were a person. The best thing about using this in a car is that functions that would otherwise require several clicks through the menu can be called up directly. “No other technology to date has enabled people to use infotainment systems with so little distraction”, says Behrendt. For example, the driver could simply say, “Find me the cheapest petrol station round here” – and the result is read out by the computer’s voice. If the driver accepts the recommendation, the navigation system gives directions for the shortest route to get there.
“An automobile is really just another mobile device. At least, that’s what my 16-year-old nephew thinks.”
Peter Behrendt, Managing Director Volkswagen Infotainment GmbH
Experts anticipate that, in the near future, more and more search functions will be replaced by “predictive algorithms”. This means that drivers will no longer need to actively call up a particular function; the car will automatically make suggestions about what to do next. For example, the onboard computer will recognize when there is not enough fuel in the tank to get the vehicle to its destination. If a driver has always stopped at petrol stations with the lowest fuel prices, the computer can now suggest the most appropriate fuel stop – it is constantly online, after all, with up-to-the-minute information about petrol pump prices. These functions will only be effective if the vehicle receives constantly updated information from a server that is approved and monitored by Volkswagen.
Constant data exchange between vehicles and their infrastructure is already part of normal daily life for Dr. Hans Welfers, Head of Electronics Development at MAN Truck & Bus. This is because commercial vehicle buyers have one concern above all others: operating costs. Competition between freight forwarding companies is tough and globalization is making it even tougher. Reducing driving times, fuel consumption and maintenance to a minimum is therefore a top priority. This is where MAN’s telematics application comes in. The latest version was one of the highlights of the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2014 motor show. It consists of modular software and a sender-receiver module installed in the vehicle. The module collects all the relevant data while the vehicle is in operation – not just speed, geographical location and consumption, but also a lot of technical information about the state of the vehicle – from air pressure in the tires to wear and tear of the brake pads.
This information is worth a fortune to the fleet operator. Replacing worn parts such as brake pads or tires can be scheduled in advance – for example, on days when the fleet is not being used to full capacity. MAN provides a service data portal as part of its telematics solution to ensure that the operator is alerted when routine maintenance is due and can plan accordingly. Analysis of driverrelated operating data can lead to even greater savings. Drivers whose average fuel consumption is higher than their colleagues’ can be contacted and, if necessary, offered extra training. “In trials with pilot customers we were able to show that, by analyzing driver behavior, you can reduce consumption by approximately ten percent”, explains Welfers.
“We publish a new version of MAN TeleMatics every six months.”
Dr. Hans Welfers, Head of Electronics Development at MAN Truck & Bus
The hardware and a basic version of the telematics software are already installed in many of MAN’s series vehicles. The freight company can add further modules to the system – such as a program to record driving and rest periods. Apps and office software are developed in tandem between external service providers and MAN’s electronics development teams. This close collaboration between vehicle electronics specialists and software experts reduces development times considerably. “We publish a new version of MAN TeleMatics every six months”, reports Dr. Welfers. His colleagues from the passenger car departments in Ingolstadt and Wolfsburg are impressed. “MAN’s and Scania’s technical solutions are so advanced that we can learn a lot from them”, says Tanneberger. Volkswagen’s development network thus encompasses not only locations all over the world, but also applications from the Volkswagen up!3 through to 40-ton trucks. Even though over 2,500 electronics experts and computer scientists are working on the car of the future, the Group has no intention of developing everything on its own. “We need strong partnerships with universities and other companies, from start-ups to large IT groups”, Tanneberger comments. Because strong networks are the only way to develop networked technology.
1 Volkswagen Polo fuel consumption in l/100 km combined from 3.1 to 5.1; CO2 emissions in g/km combined from 82 to 115.
2 ŠKODA Fabia fuel consumption in l/100 km combined from 3.4 to 4.8; CO2 emissions in g/km combined from 88 to 110.
3 Volkswagen up! fuel consumption in l/100 km combined from 4.1 to 4.7; energy consumption in kWh/100 km combined 11.7; gas in kg/100 km combined 2.9; CO2 emissions in g/km combined from 0 to 109.