When visitors drive to the outskirts of Chemnitz they don’t find something like an industrial park. Instead, they pass a gatekeeper to enter an expansive industrial and research site full of historical buildings from the GDR. A high-tech park with tradition. One multi-story pre-fab building used to house East Germany’s VEB Numerik company, which made control systems for industrial robots. Today it is the home of the technology company FDTech, which develops basic systems for autonomous driving.
FDTech occupies an entire floor of the building. The long and brightly lit hall was renovated so recently that it still smells of new carpets and its walls are perfectly white. It is dominated by a large illuminated display with the company logo. In several spacious rooms off the hall, young people are concentrating on their computer screens. Software developers are meeting casually in small groups, offering mutual advice as they stand around high tables. Some are writing technical formulas on flip charts, while others are focused intensely on their screens.
Standard Production of Highly Automated Vehicles
FDTech was founded in October of 2017. It has 30 employees already and expects to have as many as 150 over the medium term. They have come to Saxony from around the world. The international team from Germany, France, Pakistan and India is expecting a new member from Egypt soon. They are all specialists in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which means they are working on future approaches to mobility. Volkswagen has recently acquired a minority share of their company. As Friedrich Eichler, Volkswagen’s Head of Chassis Development, explains, “We are working full steam on equipping the next generation of Volkswagen cars with highly automated driving systems, which is the next step on the road to autonomous vehicles. That is precisely why we are also using the expert knowledge at FDTech and combining it with Volkswagen’s power and expertise as a global automotive corporation.”
Mobility for Everyone
Karsten Schulze, CEO and co-founder of FDTech, explains the company’s vision as follows: “We want to make driverless vehicles available to everyone everywhere. We want to expand and also safeguard human mobility. This applies especially to people who are getting older and to people with disabilities. That is one of the main reasons we founded the company, and it also motivates us on a personal level. We’re passionate about this.”
Schulze and his four co-founders have been involved in developing driver assistance systems for some time. With FDTech they are focusing on automated driving functions and developing the components needed for situational analyses and driving strategies. The company is also developing simulations that test how self-driving vehicles respond to critical situations. Verification and validation will play a major role in not only the development but also the acceptance of self-driving cars.
Saxony – Hot Spot for New Technologies
Volkswagen’s involvement is an example not only of the Group’s continuous expansion of its own development expertise but also of its commitment to agile start-ups and medium-sized companies. As Eichler observes, “There is a technology-based environment in the state of Saxony that is headed precisely in this direction. FDTech has a great network in the region; it knows the community, universities and start-ups. With our holding in FDTech we are assured of expert knowledge that is extremely helpful in our development of highly automated cars.”
Transformation to Mobility Provider
Saxony is developing ever more into a hot spot for new technologies. This is just the right environment for the Volkswagen plant in the Saxon city of Zwickau, which will be built into the largest e-mobility center in Europe by 2020. The world’s first car based on the Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB) will already be rolling from its production line there by the end of 2019. This demonstrates once again the premium that Volkswagen places on innovation-fueled development. As Eichler says, “Autonomous driving is the lynchpin in transforming Volkswagen from a car maker to a mobility provider. More than that – it will play a central role for Volkswagen in the future.” Thanks in part to expertise and new technologies from Saxony.