Operating concept for the year 2030
“Our development work is based on use cases and takes into account the needs of our premium customers.”
Michael, André, can you outline what you and your teams are working on?
Michael Herter: I head up innovation development for the user interface and user experience. Our job is to anticipate what customers will want and expect in future in terms of vehicle displays and controls. We test out new technologies, monitor trends and examine if and how we can integrate these into the car. It’s also always about continually optimizing the user experience in the interaction with the product. Our development work is based on use cases and takes into account the needs of our premium customers. This is how we arrive at future requirements that we then have to implement technologically. My team currently consists of eleven people with very different types of expertise – from engineer to psychologist, from designer to medical doctor.
André Georgi: I’m the head of Interface Hardware within Audi Design, which means those parts that our customers touch. We’re a team of 14 designers and three coordinators, which is extensively networked within Technical Development and beyond. Our most important partners are in Electronic Development, where we have very close contact with Michael’s department.
Michael Herter was born in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance in 1968. Following an apprenticeship, he took a second course of study at the Ulm University of Applied Sciences. Right after graduating in 1996, he joined AUDI AG, where he held various positions in Logistics and management roles in several Technical Development functions. Foreign assignments took him to Brazil and China. Since 2017, Herter has been responsible for Innovation Development User Interface and User Experience within the Electrical/Electronics Development function.
Designers and advance development specialists are always working on the future – how far distant is your time horizon?
Michael Herter: The first products of our joint work won’t appear in a car before 2022. For some ideas, we’re even looking at 2030. We look to the future, develop a vision and think about the possible steps that will take us there – within the scope of a long-term plan. We always have to bear in mind that some technology trends can very quickly disappear again from the market. Who in consumer electronics these days is still talking about 3D television with shutter glasses?
Yet the speed of development overall continues to accelerate, driven by consumer electronics in particular …
Michael Herter:… and by the autonomous cars of the future. This is where operating concepts are set for radical change. That’s why, in many new projects, we often don’t talk about specific technology in the initial stages but mainly about function. We’re concentrating more and more on the customer use case, i.e. the benefits.
André Georgi was born in Zwickau in 1977. His family had close ties to the Auto Union, the predecessor to AUDI AG. After graduating high school, he studied vehicle technology at HTW Dresden. In 2000, he wrote his diploma thesis on Volkswagen design and completed a supplementary course in transportation design in Munich. Georgi has been working for Audi since 2002 – initially as a lighting designer then as Head of Industrial Design and in Interior Design since 2017, where he is responsible for the Interface Hardware team.
“For these new mobility experiences, we want to use operating solutions that appeal to all human communication channels.”
And what sort of use cases are we talking about here?
André Georgi: In the Aicon, our show car from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, we demonstrated the idea of eye tracking. The driver selects a function from a screen by fixing his gaze on it. To activate it, he then taps his finger twice on a sensitive wooden panel next to his seat, which he can slide really far back. The Aicon was conceived as a first-class travel capsule, which could pick you up in Munich and bring you straight to a meeting in Berlin. You would be free to do whatever you like on the journey – work, skype, eat or watch a movie. For these new mobility experiences, we want to use operating solutions that appeal to all human communication channels – sight, hearing, speech, touch.
Michael Herter: Be it gesture control, eye tracking, holography or health sensors – we examine all these topics and compare them with use cases because we don’t want to press forward with developments that don’t deliver true added value for our customers. Our aim is always to achieve the simplest and most intuitive interaction possible between the human being and the car. The rapid pace of progress in certain technologies and new ones, such as artificial intelligence, will produce major leaps forward.
André Georgi: And we can’t overchallenge our customers with all this. They should gradually build trust in the artificial intelligence in their cars. We can promote this through the operating elements, through color and materials, through calm and harmony.
Where do you gather knowledge and find inspiration?
André Georgi: As designers, we live on constantly pursuing our curiosity and drawing information and inspiration from the media and our environment. We want to know how other cultures think, how societies are changing. And we work within far-reaching international network.
What does that mean in specific terms?
André Georgi: If we launch a research project in, say, Seoul, we obviously call on our colleagues from South Korea to participate in workshops and share their experiences with us. Internally, we’re working constantly to develop our collaborations – we want to be even freer, more agile and more self-contained. In my previous work for Audi, I worked a lot with companies like Leica and Occhio, which, much like us, manufacture premium products. These brands are always having to reinvent themselves and are work constantly to keep up with the speed of digitalization in their fast-moving markets and to live up to their own expectations of being at the very forefront. I see a lot of parallels to us.
Michael Herter: The intense cooperation between André’s and my departments early on demonstrates very clearly how we work in Audi Technical Development. We think and act beyond the boundaries of our own functions. We exchange information, benefit from the thinking of others, test ideas together, follow new paths. When we put our project teams together, we use new, interdisciplinary methods such as design thinking or scrum. We’re constantly checking what kinds of cooperations may be possible – including ones outside the sector – that benefit both partners to the same degree in certain areas. Other companies have to develop new ideas, too, with the electronics and design sectors being the most interesting from our standpoint. Another important aspect for us is start-ups, which is why we’re also working with our scouts from Audi.Denkwerkstatt in Berlin. This approach helps us develop functions faster and more creatively and get them into the vehicle.
How well are you networked with the big overseas markets?
Michael Herter: The markets in Asia and North America are very important to us. We have creative support in these regions – the AIR offices (short for Audi Innovation Research, and the Group’s Future Centers). They’re also looking in detail at their respective start-up cultures. And we’re obviously monitoring very closely what’s going on in consumer electronics – from robots in the home to new connectivity solutions.