The car of the future is always online, continuously updated with state-of-the-art computer technology and drives fully automatically at the driver’s command. A vision? No – a plan, as a conversation between Ricky Hudi, Head of Electronics Development at Audi, and trend researcher Professor Peter Wippermann reveals.
TALKING ABOUT THE FUTURE OF CARS – Ricky Hudi from Audi (left) and trend researcher Professor Peter Wippermann.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin – no sooner is the destination entered in the navigation system of the Audi A81 than the satellite view of the monument appears on the saloon’s central display. Ricky Hudi, Head of Electronics Development at Audi, switches to Google Street View and zooms in on the four-horse chariot. His passenger, trend researcher Professor Peter Wippermann, is impressed. “And you can buy this already?” You can, if you choose an Audi with MMI Navigation plus. This infotainment system is permanently connected to the Internet via a telephone module and makes it possible to access traffic information online or listen to Internet radio stations, among other things. And not just in the flagship Audi A8 – almost all Audi series are now available with Internet access.
But Hudi and Wippermann do not dwell on the present. Their business is the future. Wippermann investigates social trends and how they will affect our lives tomorrow. Hudi works with around 2,000 experts both inside and outside the company to ensure that Audi models have the future on board. The two experts do not need a crystal ball. “We know that young people are shaped by the media”, explains Wippermann. So some of the needs of future car drivers can be predicted. “For young people, the Internet and social networks are a part of everyday life. They take their availability for granted – in cars, too.” This is a megatrend that Audi identified at an early stage. “Over the last ten years, we have networked the electronic functions within a car”, says Hudi. “In the next ten years, we will network the car with its environment. It’s all about seamless connectivity.” To achieve this, Audi is expanding its knowledge in the field of research and development at its German centers, as well as in Beijing and Silicon Valley. The software for the Volkswagen Group’s infotainment systems of the future is programmed in Ingolstadt by 160 staff at e.solutions, a joint venture with IT service provider Elektrobit.
Partnerships play a key role in keeping pace with the rapid development of consumer electronics. For example, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler announced the cooperation with Nvidia, the manufacturer of one of the world’s most powerful graphics processors, at the beginning of 2011. A key focus of the partnership is mounting these processors – used to display images like that of the Brandenburg Gate quickly and realistically – on a dedicated circuit board so that they can be exchanged with minimal effort. This allows Audi to ensure that the most powerful computer is always on board, throughout the entire lifecycle of a model. What may look like a small step is a revolution in automotive construction. While a new car model is released every five to six years on average, Internet-enabled mobile phones have a production cycle of little more than a year. Now this is no longer an issue. “We are bringing these two worlds together”, says Hudi.
In-car mobile Internet access is made possible by increasingly powerful technology. “But look and feel are just as important to customer acceptance”, says Wippermann, moving his hand along the precision double stitching of the Audi A8’s leather-clad cockpit. “Traditional values like craftsmanship and first-class finishing are becoming more and more important.” This is music to the perfectionist Hudi’s ears. At the end of the development phase, he approves every switch himself checking resistance and even the sound a button makes when it is pressed.