"The next three or four years will be decisive," says Chief Digital Officer at Volkswagen Johann Jungwirth on the reinvention of the car.
At the CeBIT Global Conferences, he explained what VW is working on and what role artificial intelligence will play for the car of tomorrow.
Let's start with what Jungwirth did NOT speak about at the Sakura Stage in Hall 8: alternative engines. That was it really. Instead, the Volkswagen CDO showed, in fast-forward, how the corporation is digitizing its core business. The key term here was artificial intelligence. "AI is everywhere and it will take on a central role in the car of the future," states Jungwirth. No one expects it to replace humans, but to complement us where it can – in the dashboard, for example.
"Today you have to push seven or eight buttons before you find what you're looking for on the in-car entertainment system. We want to reduce that number to one – if not zero." With this, he means to say that our voices and gestures will come to control far more than just the sat nav. The car recognizes its driver's expressions, mood, and destination. By monitoring location data and road behavior, the user experience adapts to each specific situation.
"The engine used to represent the heart of a car, but the autonomous driving system will soon take over." AI is of course central here as well. The self-driving car is expected to make transport safer, preventing over a million traffic-related deaths a year. It should make parking easier, too. According to Jungwirth, we waste a third of our time in cars looking for parking spots. The autonomous vehicle would solve this problem by dropping the passenger off at their front door before finding a place to park by itself. It could then be summoned back at the touch of a button.
And discussions on parking didn't end there. Huge car parks have long been required in highly-developed cities. But Jungwirth claims that in a couple of years only a seventh of these will be necessary. This is because fewer people will be buying cars, with the preference shifting towards using them only on demand. "For 96 percent of the time, cars just sit there," states Jungwirth. An autonomous shared vehicle would be almost permanently in motion, dropping one passenger off and immediately locating the next – like a self-driving taxi. VW is the first company to develop this kind of mobility concept – which it has given the working title "Sedric" (self-driving car).
Will it remain just a concept? Yes, most likely. But a whole host of Sedric-inspired ideas will undoubtedly become reality – perhaps even in the next three to four years.