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Interview

What tomorrow holds

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, solid state energy systems, autonomous driving and lots more exciting things …

Volkswagen Group Innovation is the incubator for innovative vehicle and mobility solutions. We spoke to Dr Nikolai Ardey, Head of Volkswagen Group Innovation, and Petromil Petkov from the Innovation Hub in Singapore about the most recent developments.

Dr Ardey, first off: What’s the story behind Volkswagen Group Innovation and what exactly do you do there?

Volkswagen Group Innovation is the central innovation unit for the Volkswagen Group. In other words, we carry out research for all Group brands and then present the results each year at the Future Mobility Days. Could there be any cooler job in the company (laughs).

How large is the innovation team?

We currently have a workforce of about 600 employees in our globally distributed innovation centres. Most of these are based in Wolfsburg, but we also have larger sites in the USA, China, Japan, Singapore and Israel. So we have a very international presence.

The department was originally called “Volkswagen Group Research”. What’s the reason behind the name change?

It’s quite simple really. Research is needed to generate knowledge and innovation is needed to produce products or new technologies relevant to the customer, which are then successful on the market and become established. And we want to play our part in this.

To do this, do you also work together with other companies?

Innovation is obviously not exclusive to Volkswagen. In fact it’s even rather smart to have a lean structure internally in order to be able to work together with free resources and external innovation ecosystems. This is where it’s at so to speak. Whether we look to Beijing, Silicon Valley or Israel – these are the innovation hotspots, where the absolute best in the field are working. And this is also where the start-ups, universities and institutes we cooperate with can be found. This represents a substantial part of our work and allows us to find new ways of developing technology in the deep-tech area.

We are convinced that the car will continue to be an attractive and desirable product in the future – in view of all the innovations we are continually incorporating.

Dr. Nikolai Ardey Leiter Volkswagen Group Innovation

Which specific topics are being addressed by Volkswagen Group Innovation?

We have two major topic areas: sustainability and mobility. The former is focused on decarbonisation, negative-emissions technologies – and, also very exciting, the circular economy, in other words a closed loop that will mean that our vehicles ideally no longer generate an environmental footprint. In the area of mobility we are focusing primarily on the most complex variant: mobility in urban centres. However, a basic element of our work is of course also long-distance mobility and everything that this demands from the point of view of technology. These are the aspects we are working on in our areas of action as they are called.

Can you give us examples of these areas of action?

Well, on the one hand, there are the digital topics. These involve supercomputers, high-performance computing platforms, new algorithms or perception technologies – in other words technologies that allow the vehicle to take notice of its environment so that it can drive autonomously. At the same time, we are looking at carbon-neutral materials, new types of inverters for electric drives, but also general topics such as future research, new mobility concepts and much more.

How many projects are you working on at present?

In all about 130 projects at the moment.

For example, we have an important project in our portfolio that will allow charging with renewable energies at locations that do not have direct access to these energy sources.

Petromil Petkov Innovation Hub Singapur

Mr Petkov, you are based in Singapore – so a long way from Germany. What is the primary focus of your work at present?

Every innovation hub has its own focal topics, each of which represents the strengths of the local ecosystem. For example, we have an important project in our portfolio that will allow charging with renewable energies at locations that do not have direct access to these energy sources. Special certificates for renewable energies are generated in real time for this purpose. This means that certificates are purchased from locations that are connected to renewable energies directly during the charging process with the result that the charging process operates with zero emissions.

Dr Ardey, what do the European colleagues have on their agenda at the moment?

For instance, they are looking at “Automotive Service Robots”. Let’s say your company operates an autonomous vehicle fleet. You will therefore obviously also want an autonomous service option. So how can I clean a self-driving vehicle autonomously? How can it be charged autonomously – keyword: charging robot? And how can a vehicle with a dead battery be collected by a transport robot? The colleagues are currently working intensively on answers to these questions.

What news is there from the area of electric mobility?

The main focus in this respect is charging. High-power chargers are currently delivering output of somewhere in the region of 150 kilowatts, that is, with plug and cable. However, we are currently developing an inductive 300-kilowatt charging system together with our partners in the US. Inductive charging is set to be revolutionised in this sense, since to date it still averages a maximum of 11 kilowatts.

That sounds extremely promising, especially as regards fleets. Is there also another personal tech highlight for you?

Our “V.MO” drone is a really exciting project, which we presented this summer in China as a stationary model. The electrically powered passenger drone, which can take off and land vertically (eVTOL), will extend our mobility portfolio in cities with the possibility of vertical mobility. We are planning the first lift off in 2023, naturally unmanned for now. The first manned flight is not far off though and I have even volunteered my services already as a test passenger (laughs).

Why precisely in China?

The topic of vertical mobility has strong political backing in China. In addition, there is no private aviation sector in China, so the airspace can be controlled most easily here as regards this type of mobility.

To put it bluntly: Will “V.MO” be the vertical successor to the Beetle, Golf etc. in line with the principle: Mobility for all?

No, as the Volkswagen Group, we do not regard passenger drones as a mass market. It can be seen more as a business sector, a type of anchor for adding on urban mobility services and charging infrastructure activities, therefore allowing us to offer seamless mobility services. Imagine you just head to the office roof and get on the drone and then fly directly to your next meeting, the airport or home, avoiding any traffic congestion ... that should thrill any innovation fan!

News on topic

Stand: 12.12.2022

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