In the foyer of Braunschweig’s Civic Center it’s curiously quiet considering that a car race is to take place here today. There’s little to suggest that behind the heavy wooden doors that lead into the hall, a fierce competition to decide the future of the automobile is under way. There are, however, multitudes of young people moving around – students from a total of 22 universities.
In the center of the hall there are two large race courses – including parking spaces and cardboard obstacles – that the cars have to travel around successfully in the race. At the moment, the training session is still going on. At the tables behind the driving courses, teams sit at their computers and monitors making last-minute changes to their software. So many people, but the cars drive autonomously? In the end, the 1:10-scale miniature cars that are entered in the competition here have to perform their tasks alone.
The Future of Transport Is Autonomous
Autonomous driving is one of the key technologies for the future of the automotive industry. The demand for qualified young professionals in the fields of IT and development is accordingly great – and the Volkswagen Group is no exception. TU Braunschweig’s Carolo Cup, which Volkswagen supports as a sponsor, is a great place to meet the prospects of the future and win them over. Since 2008, student teams have met here annually to test their mettle with self-built, model-sized cars.
The competition consists of the following: The cars have to travel around the race track two times. In the first run the objective is to cover as many meters as possible while also negotiating two parking situations. In the second run, obstacles – some moving – and street signs are added to the course. In addition to the practical part of the competition, each team also introduces its project in a presentation that is accessible to all participants and which is considered in the evaluation of the overall concept. The field of entrants is international: in addition to many German teams, this year’s field also includes competitors from China, Poland and Switzerland. Previous years included entrants from Russia and Sweden as well.
One of the jurors and co-organizers of the competition is Prof. Thomas Form, Director of Electronics and Vehicle Research at the Volkswagen Group and an honorary professor in Braunschweig. In his opinion the competition is highly relevant for companies in the automotive industry. Here the students bring together the theory they have learned at the university with practical tasks. There is also the organizational form of teams and the matter of collaboration during a stressful situation. It’s the perfect preparation for a later job.
“Here you have students working with the latest software tools, which we also use in research and development, while they are still completing their studies.”
Join the Car Industry with a Computer Science Degree?
For the team from Esslingen University in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the automotive industry is an omnipresent topic when students consider what to do when they finish their studies. Almost all of the team members study applied computer science. The Carolo Cup is part of their study program. The competition provides a great opportunity to acquire practical skills and gain some initial experience with self-driving cars – albeit on a small scale for starters. The fact that carmakers like the Volkswagen Group are on hand here does not escape their attention. Participating in the event will look good on their résumés, say the students from Esslingen.
The world looks considerably different to their competitors from Basel, Switzerland. The automotive industry is all but non-existent in Switzerland, and with it the points of contact with carmakers. The search for sponsors was also tricky for the team. However, they didn’t want to miss out on the technical challenge. And of course, the promise of artificial intelligence is not limited to the automotive industry. The team from the University of Basel is now competing for the second year in a row. The students from Switzerland are convinced that it’s only a matter of time before cars that make do without an active driver fill the roads. The highest hurdle, they say, is in society itself, which first has to develop trust in the new technologies.
This year’s teams come from four countries.
The future plans of the team members with the longest journey there are much clearer. They study at the College of Automotive Engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai. Computer science in conjunction with automotive mobility are the focus of their studies. Two instructors and twelve students undertook the long journey at the invitation of Professor Form. They hold their own competition for autonomous driving in China. Their university maintains many partnerships with German universities, so the trip to Braunschweig is also an opportunity for the students to get to know the country. The students from the College of Automotive Engineering all want to go into the automotive industry upon graduation. Many graduates find their way to Volkswagen Shanghai.
Learning from Each Other
“You want to get ahead together and not hoard your knowledge.”
The Carolo Cup brings all of these students, their stories and ideas together. Above all, with the competition TU Braunschweig and Volkswagen offer them a forum in which to exchange and learn from each other. “You want to get ahead together and not hoard your knowledge,” says Patrick Quell of Esslingen University team. The Carolo Cup is quite simply a large, international instructional event that prepares participants for jobs in the automotive industry.
Just being there is everything, say the university teams who take part in the Carolo Cup – even though there naturally has to be a winner, or more precisely two winners, at the end of a competition. The Basic Cup was won by the team from TU Munich, while the advanced Carolo Cup was won by the team from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.