Volkswagen opened its larger Electronics Research Laboratory last Friday in Belmont, Calif., amid the challenges of the competitive field of automotive telematics with the added pressure of lessening driver distraction. Burkhard Huhnke, executive director of the lab, said that this facility has a $20 million annual budget and will concentrate on human-machine interface, driver assistance, multimedia and connected vehicles.
At the moment, VW is hiring to get this lab staffed with 100 designers, engineers and psychologists. With only three staffers, VW began this work in 1998 in Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale.
The work then transferred to a bigger building in Palo Alto. This Belmont facility is the largest research unit owned by VW outside of Germany. This facility is strategically located to attract the best in the industry, whether from other Silicon Valley software firms or fresh graduates of Stanford and the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Davis.
The VW lab is working with technology partners -- Google, Oracle and Nvidia – on several projects. One of the most interesting ones is a car that finds a parking spot on its own and via the driver’s smart phone, it goes back to the parking structure’s entrance. There’s also the creation of sensor systems that can view an object in three dimensions.
VW is aiming to shrink the whirling sensor from its current coffee-can size to that of a cigarette pack. VW is also working on driving awareness systems that can sense traffic-signal and speed limit changes and with these observations, can either accelerate or decelerate the car. Then there’s a car monitor that follows driving patterns that may be uploaded to a smart phone or computer to enable a driver to achieve higher efficiency through his driving.
VW seeks to make the instrument panel more readable by using fiberoptics to stack multiple readouts within the same cluster. One solution is for the next step of a navigation instruction to be seen inside the circle of the speedometer readout.
VW wants to also make the human-machine interface more elegant and use haptic clicks and an intelligent mouse so that telematic menus could be more predictable. For instance, Google Earth is used as an aid in navigating such as in getting a "street view.” This may even be expanded to display the closest electric vehicle charging stations when the vehicle’s power is running low.