What does the future hold – and what does it take to conquer it?

6 p.m.: Doors open. Aside from the topic itself, the opportunity to network is what makes meet-ups so popular in the Bay Area. During these casual get-togethers and face-to-face conversations, people are looking for like-minded spirits; they are making new contacts and maybe even pitching their own business idea.

One’s company, two’s a crowd and three’s a party

What are the challenges of next-generation mobility? Tonight, and for the first time ever, Audi Innovation Research (AIR) has joined forces with Audi mobility and Audi Code (Continuous Optimization and Digital Engineering) to share their thoughts on the future of mobility. With each team operating at different points within the innovation cycle, the audience is given unique access to a more holistic and diversified perspective. 

The topic: next-generation mobility

The Audi dealership on South Van Ness Avenue is where things are happening tonight: The first guests arrive early and take a look behind the scenes. It’s a very mixed crowd that is interested in Audi’s work. Most have come directly from the office; their smart-casual clothes reflect the easy-going atmosphere in the Bay Area.

As Mira from AIR SF takes the stage, about 150 people turn their attention to her. The little black card in Mira’s hand is misleading – because tonight’s topics are the big ones of our time: autonomous driving, share economy, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI).

The human and the machine – a relationship of equals?

Markus Auerbach, Director Audi Innovation Research SF, represents the customer’s point of view. In his opinion, AI will be the big game changer in the automotive market. He is convinced that AI will be the key leading to a more emotional relationship and higher level of engagement with our cars.

Markus Auerbach,
Audi Innovation Research

“Historically, the horse was our first choice of transportation; a loyal companion we could talk to, that reacted to our actions…like following our whistle. The car as a machine has greatly reduced this emotional link. The former interactions have been replaced with one-way communication. Our companion has become a machine. With AI coming into place, the car can become an intelligent soulmate – knowing all about us. It can communicate with us, and, who knows…maybe even follow our whistle.”

Positioning in the future mobility market: What’s my time worth?

“Mobility on demand” is the focus for Maria. As Director of Audi mobility located here in San Francisco, she takes a very close look at the mobility market. What drives the growing demand are the various human mobility needs. For Eric Sanchez, CEO from startup Revl, the choice of transportation is use-case driven: “In my day-to-day routine, it’s most important to get to my destination as quickly as possible. In that case, the type of car I’m in doesn’t matter that much. That changes, of course, when I’m planning a road trip for the weekend – then the route becomes the destination, and my choice of car a top priority.”

In order to address the different customer needs, Maria’s team focuses on digital service solutions. “Talking about future mobility, independence is the one word that sums it all up. People want to be flexible in every aspect of their lives. So a new target group evolves, which doesn’t like to be bound to long-term responsibilities, but is very curious and likes to try new products. Quick access to mobility becomes more important than actual ownership of a car. Our service ‘Audi on demand’ for example, is customized to this new kind of lifestyle: The Audi on demand app grants users access to a virtual garage where they can choose from the entire Audi fleet– a SUV for a ski weekend or a convertible for a weekend trip to Napa. And the flexibility isn’t restricted to the choice of car. ‘Audi on demand’ seeks to address the customer’s mobility needs as well as their time.

Maria Bittner,
Audi mobility

“As a premium service provider, we differentiate our product by enabling our customer with the added value of independence. Driving becomes an experience, without the well-known pain points,” says Maria and refers to the waiting lines at a traditional car rental. “Your car will be delivered right to your doorstep. We save our customers time, so they can spend it enjoying the ride. A premium position in the future mobility market will be driven by the question: What’s my time worth?”

Audi CODE: the architects of a future digital ecosystem

Maria’s team has already left the classic sales model. With the service product portfolio of Audi mobility, the company has taken the first step towards becoming a digital mobility provider. From a technology point of view, the big challenge is to support the new business models with a high-performance backend. That’s where Audi CODE comes into play. The team around Jeff Titus and Patrick Rumpel is set to anticipate IT-trends and transform them into scalable solutions. As best practice, they are meant to foster the architecture of a future IT-infrastructure.

“Our focus lies on multi-cloud computing, automation of software development processes and solutions for data-driven business,” says Patrick. “In San Francisco, we have the freedom to work on prototypes and test them in the market. Afterwards, we provide our results to all brands of the Group for an international roll-out.”

That’s the daily business. Besides that, the CODE team is working on various pilot projects, the topics virtual and augmented reality are becoming more and more a field of interest. This evening, the participants have the opportunity to experience the legendary race of Le Mans almost live in the pit lanes: Glasses on and action!

Artificial intelligence: the first step to virtual immortality

Dr. Florian Neukart, Principal Data Scientist, wraps up the evening with a discussion about the relationship between AI and quantum physics. “In the mobility sector, we will first see AI implemented in autonomous cars, and eventually, intelligent fleets capable of capturing, interpreting and sharing relevant data points with one another. In this way, multi-agent systems will ensure an optimized flow of traffic and safe travelling. “Through vehicle-to-vehicle communication, cars will share alerts about hazards and even solve dangerous situations for one another. Besides, they could also engage with the urban infrastructure – just think about an optimized traffic light setting that adjusts according to the current traffic load.”

Listening to Florian, his fascination for artificial intelligence is obvious. And his curiosity doesn’t stop after working hours: As a researcher and lecturer at the University of Leiden, he is working on the next level of its development: artificial consciousness. At the Audi meet-up he talks about his research concept: “In my opinion, the base to create artificial conscious entities (ACE) is the human brain. By implanting electrodes in the brain tissue, we get insights into the complex operations of neural networks. The recorded signals are already of high quality. We’ve also made remarkable progress concerning other performance factors, for example in regard to bioelectric contamination. Besides, already today, we are able to record the neural impact of single brain cells as well as of groups. In comparison to ECoG-electrodes (electrocorticography), this approach enables us to record the coordinated activity of a much higher number of neurons.”

The most visionary – and partly solely hypothetical – research projects touch on the substitution of brain cells with nanobots, says Florian. Another idea is implementing an ultra-thin layer in the brain tissue. Generally speaking, all different kinds of approaches seek to build a seamless connection between the human brain and artificial systems. By doing so, researchers aim to successively add, reproduce and substitute the human brain with artificial parts. “In the near future, our biological component could only be a side aspect to our existence, whereas its loss won’t be the end,” says Florian and paints a picture of a virtual immortality.

While Florian is getting into details, the AI enthusiasts in the crowd become visible. With Zeynep Akata, Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley, Florian hit a nerve. “I liked Florian's idea of generating a human–machine connection by using quantum chips integrated in human brains. They could enhance our way of thinking, so we might be able to focus more, do difficult calculations or pay attention to details, which is what machines are better at.”  

The conversation doesn’t stop when the speakers leave the stage. The presentations have prompted new thoughts and a lot to talk about. Maaike Doyer, CFO Business Models Inc., is familiar with the meet-up culture in San Francisco. One year ago, she has opened an office for the US market in Downtown. “In the Bay Area, everything is about networking. People are really interested and open to share their ideas and experiences. Everyone’s looking for the next big thing and a partner to and make it happen.”

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