It’s a mild summer evening on the rooftop terrace near the English Garden in Munich. The AID employees are meeting up over BBQ and beers to watch a football game. It’s Feng Xiao’s first time; he joined the team a month ago as a software engineer. It’s the perfect chance to get to know one another better and to discuss visions of the future with CEO Karlheinz Wurm. Where is the autonomous future taking us? Which challenges lie ahead for AID? And what has AID achieved so far in its first year?
Discussing visions of the future with the head of the Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving
A job interview in reverse: Feng Xiao is new in the team. Before he starts his job at Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH, he buttonholes CEO Karlheinz Wurm to ask him some questions.
A perfect match between the software and automotive worlds
Feng: Up until now, you worked exclusively in the software industry; you helped to establish Skype. Now you’re leading a company in the automotive industry. How do these two worlds differ from each other?
Karlheinz: AID is much more than that. This is where the automotive world meets software. Our automotive experts have experience in construction and in mechanical and electronic systems. The software experts know how to create scalable, reliable software in mass systems. Autonomous driving brings these two worlds together. And that is a great challenge, because people’s different experiences and backgrounds give them different points of view. We need to inspire everyone to think in a new way.
Feng: That’s exactly the way I see it! That diversity was one of the reasons I applied to work at AID. So many experts with different backgrounds and from different cultures come together here. It makes for a very interesting, varied working environment.
Karlheinz: Diversity is unbelievably important for autonomous driving. This working field requires new, creative processes for finding solutions, and they can be developed thanks to this variety of viewpoints. This is why, at AID, we concentrate on bringing together employees with international expertise from many different cultures and relevant industries – such as computer science, robotics, automotive and so on.
Initial successes at AID
Feng: Employees from over 25 different countries join up here in Munich at AID to work together on autonomous driving! I think that shows that this topic already has great significance for us as a society. What is your assessment, as AID’s first anniversary rolls around?
Karlheinz: One of our greatest successes is definitely that we’ve been able to get some truly great people to join us. We have the best experts in their respective fields here in the company. But we’ve achieved a lot in terms of technology, too. We have established a strong development system that allows developers to work efficiently, and we are going full steam ahead with our simulation environment in order to test our systems in a way that is scalable. To that end, we recently established a partnership with Cognata, for example. Aside from that, we are currently running trials with our first cars on testing tracks in the north of Munich.
Feng: I think it’s great that we are using electric cars for the tests. Because, for me, nothing fits together as well as electric mobility and autonomous driving.
Karlheinz: I agree with you! In general, autonomous driving doesn’t require an electric drivetrain. It works with a combustion engine just as well as with an electric drive. But we are working towards environmental sustainability, so electric and autonomous driving complement each other perfectly to increase efficiency.
What do you find most exciting about autonomous driving?
Feng: I think it has the potential to make the world a better place. Autonomous driving can prevent accidents that are caused by human error, and I hope that, in the future, people who can’t drive or who have a disability will be able to enjoy more flexibility with autonomous driving. Aside from that, transport will become much more efficient and traffic jams will be reduced.
Important steps for the automotive future
Karlheinz: I like that effective, stress-free vision of the future as well. But there are a lot of tasks on our to-do list before it can happen: We will implement largely self-driving systems in urban environments. In the first city by 2021, and later in other cities, on highways, and on rural roads. I think it will keep us busy for a while.
Feng: Besides that, I think that we need to change the way society thinks and relieve people’s anxiety. After all, they need to put their trust in a machine.
Karlheinz: That reminds me of how the first trains drove just barely 40 km/h (25 mph), and how, in the first elevators, there was always a person there who was responsible for pushing the button. Now, when someone drives with an autonomous car for the first time, they usually relax completely after three minutes and put their trust in the machine. We really just need to give autonomous driving some time. On the one hand, so we can optimize the technology and build up trust with the number of kilometers that have been driven. On the other hand, to make it clear what benefits it has to offer. Aside from that, Audi has already taken the first important steps. The new A8 is the first series-production car in the world that has been specially developed for highly automated driving in traffic jams. That’s equivalent to level 3 in the internationally recognized standards.
What a job at AID has to offer
Feng: And that is exactly what AID, as an Audi subsidiary, is trying to achieve. Only in startup style: combining the conglomerate’s tailwind with agile, flexible working methods.
Karlheinz: Is that why you left the gaming industry to join us?
Feng: Partly. But mostly because I wanted to help shape autonomous driving. You face great challenges as an engineer. It isn’t just that many answers are still unknown; there are also many questions that haven’t been asked yet. It is a subject with a great future ahead of it, which means that it will also open up immense career opportunities. I can focus on this area and build up my expertise. Besides that, it’s amazing when millions of cars are driving the streets using software that you contributed to.
Karlheinz: The great thing about computer sciences is that people can work in areas that they enjoy and work towards a higher purpose. At AID, we believe that we have the luxury of not just working, but of doing something that we find truly meaningful. Autonomous driving will influence our future and our society, so it gives people the opportunity to find fulfillment and to help shape the world of the future.
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