Today is digital


Digitization is a megatrend that is increasingly changing the way we work and how we live our daily lives. Cars have become computers on wheels. Engine and chassis management, driver assistance systems, satellite navigation, communications and entertainment are developing at breakneck speed. At the same time car manufacturing is dominated by robots and the networking of machines, systems and people – the smart factory is becoming a reality. The digitization of cars and car manufacturing plays a key role in our “Future Tracks” program. What is at stake nothing less than the opportunity to gain the leading position in the automotive industry where this trend is concerned through leveraging new solutions. As a consequence, we will be able to exert a considerable influence on customer satisfaction, the strength of our products and the attractiveness of our working environment.

The Volkswagen Group invested €11.5 billion in research and development in the past year, more than any other company. The Group employs 46,000 research and development staff worldwide. Our IT experts now number more than 10,000, because we know the key significance of digitization. Industrial production is entering a new era: the Industry 4.0 project envisages factories where components travel through the production floor on small computer-controlled carts looking for free machines to process them – without human input. Tools and equipment repair themselves and order their own replacement parts automatically. However, the machines will not just be locally controlled, networked and thus independent. Production will also be integrated with suppliers and sales. Comprehensively equipping all production stages with sensors and flexible manufacturing technologies aims to make it possible to deal with capacity fluctuations in an even more rapid and resource-efficient manner. Customer desires can be implemented with even more customization, under Industry 4.0. We are already using many of the technologies on which Industry 4.0 is based in our production process. Driverless transport systems promptly deliver parts, and intelligent tools and machines react to fluctuations and can be analyzed and serviced online. When new technologies have been proven to be reliable and secure in one area, we roll out their implementation in other areas. However, manufacturing under Industry 4.0 cannot be more expensive: it must help to reduce capital expenditures and ongoing costs. Motivated and well-qualified employees are also the key to success in the age of digital production. There will be an increasing focus on skilled jobs, e.g. machine monitoring and trouble-shooting, maintenance and repair, programming and start-up control, as well as planning and communications.


The changing face of industry (graphic)

Our sales specialists are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization and are bringing car dealerships back to city centers with the virtual showroom. Audi City has already opened its doors in Berlin, Beijing and London. Innovative media technology is used to show visitors the entire Audi range: they can view a realistic, almost life-size digital depiction of the vehicles on high-end floor-to-ceiling screens – a completely new brand experience.

Digitization is resulting in an unprecedented commercial and technological trend: the share of electrical components in vehicles is considerably higher today than it was only a few years ago, and this shift is set to continue. In cars, digitization makes connectivity possible. It mainly serves to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, but also to increase safety, comfort and driving pleasure. Car-to-X communication, which is due to be launched in the future, comprises car-to-car communication (i.e. the networking of vehicles with each other) on the one hand, and car-to-infrastructure communication (the networking of vehicles with drivers’ own devices, traffic infrastructure, the Internet and elements in the surrounding environment) on the other. This will use a wireless LAN standard developed jointly by automotive manufacturers. The local network will cover all devices transmitting or receiving data within a range of several hundred meters. In contrast to a server-based system, the vehicle only communicates with other vehicles and infrastructure elements that are located in its immediate vicinity.

The main focus of car-to-car communication is on improving safety. For example, communication between vehicles makes sure that the driver is warned in good time about the tail end of a traffic jam. The driver can also be notified about the location of an emergency vehicle and its direction of travel. This can enable a rescue lane to be formed earlier. In addition, the driver’s vehicle can relay information to the surrounding area about breakdowns, accidents, or critical road conditions. If a vehicle in front brakes unusually hard, this information is relayed to the vehicles behind via an electronic brake light, enabling the drivers to adjust their speed and shortening the time taken to react.

Car-to-X-communication (graphic)

Car-to-infrastructure communication uses specially-equipped traffic lights, roadworks, or other infrastructure elements to display additional information for drivers so as to constantly improve the traffic flow and improve safety. For example, the vehicle receives information from a set of traffic lights about when they will change and uses this to calculate a recommended optimal speed. Approaching vehicles transmit information such as their location and speed to the traffic lights, enabling the lights to change to match the traffic flow. Information about roadworks, such as their length or the current traffic conditions, is included in optimal route calculation. The system calculates weather hazards based on meteorological data from measuring stations and vehicles. It then relays this to other road users, who can adapt their driving or route planning accordingly. Further sources of information tell drivers where to find free spaces in nearby parking lots or warn them of local road closures. If the route passes close to a tourist attraction, it sends this information to the vehicle and invites the driver to make a stop.

In parallel to the driver assistance and safety aspects, the increasing interactivity between the vehicle and its occupants adds a whole new level of comfort. The car is becoming ever more closely integrated with the communications environment of consumer electronics, e.g. smartphones and tablets. Online apps are finding their way into vehicles. The Volkswagen Group’s Modular Infotainment System (MIB) forms the basis for this and can be used across brands and series. After the successful launch of MirrorLink, that reproduces smartphone content on the vehicle’s display, in 2014, Volkswagen is continuing to work on integrating consumer electronics. The Media Control system introduced in the new Passat is an example of this: the rear passengers can operate all of the key entertainment functions in comfort via their devices, e.g. surf the internet or watch movies, and can even send address book entries and search results to the infotainment system as the navigation destination. We unveiled a further innovation in a concept car: videos can be shown on all tablets in the vehicle simultaneously, irrespective of their physical origin. The soundtrack is not just audible via headphones, but can be played in sync over the car’s speaker system. Any device that is connected to the vehicle’s wireless LAN can be used as a source. Taking these opportunities further, the following situation is conceivable in the near future: while the owner of a plug-in hybrid is taking a shower in the morning, their car has already communicated with the technology in their house and is charged. It has already switched on the heating or air conditioning, depending on the weather. The driver leaves the house and approaches the car, which recognizes them via their smartphone and opens the door. The seat position is preadjusted, as are the lighting and music. The satellite navigation system has long since received route information from the traffic management system or other vehicles, and sends him on a shortcut to avoid the morning rush hour traffic. The driver has a reminder in their smartphone calendar to do the shopping, so there is naturally a supermarket along the customized route.

As an automobile manufacturer we spare no effort in ensuring that we do not carelessly lose control over data access where these new opportunities are concerned. It is of key importance to ensure that our customers’ data is kept as safe and secure as possible at all times. This is the condition for these new opportunities to be accepted and leveraged. We carefully review which technologies we can develop in-house, and where we can work together with qualified partners. As a result, the Volkswagen Group is working intensively on developing an intelligent and promising alliance with IT companies, e.g. via the Open Automotive Alliance aimed at integrating the Android platform in our vehicles.

It is both our intention and our commitment to provide compelling responses to all digitization issues via “Future Tracks”. The desire for individual mobility is changing, but it remains uninterrupted and is expanding.