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Volkswagen Group ERL working on more intuitive communications between driver, car and environment

As vehicle connectivity and advanced assistance systems become a ubiquitous part of driving, researchers at Volkswagen Group’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) are working to create a “perfect driving experience” by enabling more intuitive forms of communications between the driver, the car and the external environment.

In a presentation at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Chuhee Lee, ERL Deputy Director (who has said his imagination was stimulated as a child by Knight Rider’s KITT) said that the ERL researchers are leveraging three elements crucial for connected driving—the car; mobile devices (not just smartphones, but watches, Glass, etc.); and the cloud—to be able ultimately to design a vehicle that can learn, predict and adapt to drivers.

ERL is trying to increase the “emotional bonding” between driver and vehicle to enable the car to learn more about the driver. The key point is that to be able to provide needed information or services at the right time, the focus has to go beyond the inside of the vehicle. To know, for example, why the driver needs the car at that particular time, the system has to be able to look at the full spectrum of activities: what happened before, what the planning is, what will happen after the drive is over.

The end-to-end user experience is the key success factor to providing more connected intelligence services to our customers. This means being in touch with customers in and out of the car using cloud and connected devices, and ultimately designing a vehicle capable of learning, predicting, and adapting to drivers’ needs and wishes.

—Chuhee Lee

More future Volkswagen Group vehicles will offer technologies that seamlessly integrate mobile apps and enable connected navigation with real-time map images and updates. The navigation systems would also mimic the expertise of a driving companion, familiar with both the driver and destination.

A relatively simple example is the use of Picture Navigation, Lee said, which would allow the driver to input a destination to the Nav system by uploading a picture of the destination from a mobile device. The car would read the geotagging in the picture, and enter the proper destination coordinates. Manual or speech entry would be retained as well; the overall goal is simplifying driver-vehicle interaction.

As part of Audi’s Intelligent Urban Mobility initiative (earlier post), ERL researchers are also developing vehicle intelligence technologies that enable cars to identify the preferences and individual needs of drivers.

The Intelligent Urban Mobility initiative is a multiyear project in collaboration with UC San Diego, University of Southern California, UC Berkeley PATH, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), with the goal of developing the technologies for the future connected urban vehicle.

For example, vehicles would connect to the cloud and understand the driver’s location, how it affects the driver’s mobility, and will provide assistance to the driver’s specific needs, such as routing the driver to an available parking spot.

Volkswagen Group’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL), located in Belmont, California represents the Group’s applied research and development initiatives in North America. With a focus on advanced technology, the ERL’s mission is to identify and develop innovations for future generations of vehicles with the goal of transferring technologies from many industries into the automotive domain. Other key areas of current effort include, but are not limited to:

  • Advanced driver assistance functions

  • Sensor concepts and image processing

  • Autonomous driving

  • Voice user interface research

  • HMI (human-machine interface) for driver assistance

  • Networked speech recognition

  • Social networking and geotagged information

  • Connectivity-enabled eco-conscious driving

The ERL was established in August 1998 with three employees. The lab now has grown to become the Volkswagen Group’s largest advanced technology research and development laboratory of its kind outside of Germany, employing more than 140 engineers, social scientists, researchers, and product designers. It supports Volkswagen Group brands including Audi, VW, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, and Lamborghini.


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