“The two inventions of the century, the car and the computer, are gradually converging. We need to design future mobility to be even more intelligent and networked.” Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG, points out that the automotive industry found itself in the midst of a historical turning point at the beginning of the 21st century. The car and the computer were merging. Volkswagen, Europe’s most successful car brand, has been instrumental in driving this development. That is because the car – which operates intuitively, is networked systematically, reacts intelligently and offers significantly greater convenience – gives new innovative impetus to mobile life, making it more communicative, safer and fascinating. This is why Volkswagen is demonstrating – with an entire fleet of vehicles at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (CES; January 6 – 9) – just how much the car and computer are already becoming intertwined today and will continue to grow together in the future. The main focus here is on four aspects. First, computer-driven drive systems. Second, app and smartphone integration. Third, intuitive vehicle operation. Fourth, autonomous and semi-autonomous driving.
First – computer-controlled drive systems. Electric mobility is coming into its own. Pure electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are continually increasing their presence. The high production volume models have now arrived, and Volkswagen is setting the pace with best-sellers like the Golf. Driven exclusively by electric motors (as in the e-Golf), or by an alliance of a high-tech gasoline engine and electric motor (as in the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid). The e-Golf and Golf GTE are the protagonists of a new mobility. These cars would be inconceivable without on-board electronics with computers that control such functions as battery charging and, in the case of the hybrid models, switching between the different drive sources. At CES, Volkswagen is showing, among other things, how electric cars will be able to automatically dock to inductive charging stations and output signals that indicate the battery charge state using the vehicle’s exterior lights. Everything computer-driven, of course.
Second – app and smartphone integration. It has now been eight years, to the month, since Apple introduced its first generation iPhone in San Francisco. Competitors followed, and the rest is history. The fact is that smartphones have irreversibly changed the way we communicate and our everyday lives. It has long been normal practice to have phones automatically connected to a car’s hands-free telephone system via Bluetooth and to have the smartphones stream their media libraries into car infotainment and sound systems. But now Volkswagen is taking a significant step forward. Last year, the second generation “modular infotainment platform” (MIB II) was introduced. Along with the new radio and radio-navigation systems, MirrorLink™ was also made available for the first time; it is used to integrate the apps and operating layout of numerous Android smartphones into cars (including Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony). Later this year, the MIB II will be making its debut in the USA. At the same time as MirrorLink™ is introduced, two other interfaces will also be launched under the App Connect label: CarPlay (Apple) and Auto Android (Google). This will result in app integration for the key operating systems. App Connect will significantly expand the range of today’s Volkswagen online services. Just as it launches in the USA, CarPlay and Auto Android will also be launched by Volkswagen on the European market.
Third – intuitive operation. In the future, the mobile computer, i.e. the car, will not only merge with the mobile world; it will also integrate people into its operating concept more ideally than ever. Here, Volkswagen is following a consistent strategy of implementing user operation by touchscreen. Today, and in the future, the car will be adapted more than ever to people by recognizing their movements – via control based on proximity sensors and gesture recognition. Today, the latest infotainment systems by Volkswagen can already detect the approach of a hand with proximity sensors. Thanks to proximity sensors, the display automatically switches over from a purely informative level to a more varied menu with optimally sized controls. In the next revolutionary step – which Volkswagen is presenting in the Golf R Touch concept vehicle at the 2015 CES – the infotainment unit will precisely detect hand gestures via camera and understand them. Gesture control will make it possible to control, in real space, displays and controls in virtual space without having to touch a touchscreen. This benefits convenience and safety, because it further reduces driver distractions while operating controls. At this point, it is clear that the car and computer can no longer be viewed as separate from one another. The car and computer are one.
Fourth – autonomous and semi-autonomous driving. Clearly, cars of the future will need to be able to drive certain route segments autonomously if necessary. Either fully autonomously or semi-autonomously, and this will be introduced step by step. Even today, Park Assist by Volkswagen enables semi-automated parking and exiting from parking spaces. The car executes the entire steering process for the parking maneuver fully independently. At CES, Volkswagen is now presenting another evolutionary stage of Park Assist: Trained Parking. Here, the car scans a frequently driven path to a parking space via camera, and from that point on it executes the path semi-automatically by computer control. In another evolutionary stage, it will be possible to have the car parked without the driver even needing to be present in the vehicle. The driver would maintain control over the car via smartphone.