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Volkswagen Playing Catch-Up with Advanced Tech

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author photo by Nick Chambers May 2012
  • Self-driving car technology to keep driving fun
  • Next-generation information and entertainment systems
  • Advanced powertrain research

With sales increasing dramatically in the U.S. and around the globe, Volkswagen may be healthily on its way to reaching its goal of becoming the world's biggest car company, but looking inside the cockpit of most VWs on the market today is a bit disappointing. While the competition has forged ahead with ever larger touchscreen displays mated to integrated Internet apps such as Pandora and Yelp, VW's small LCD displays and dearth of smartphone-enabled innovations are a weak spot.

VW has as much as acknowledged it needs to play catch-up in the advanced technology arena and has started an aggressive campaign to "bring technology to the people," the slogan of its Electronics Research Lab (ERL) in the heart of Silicon Valley.

While conducting a media tour of the facility, ERL deputy director Chuhi Lee highlighted many of the lab's advanced tech activities. "It's important for [VW] to understand the culture of Silicon Valley," he said. "With all of the innovation, startups and out-of-the-box creativity, this region breeds a different kind of thinking from simply working at a German car company. ERL is a bridge meant to take Silicon Valley innovative solutions and make them meet the rigorous demands of the automotive world."

To the main point, Lee said the ERL Infotainment and Multimedia Team is working on making cars "intelligent connected devices" that can work for you and help make your life easier by learning your habits and predicting what kind of information you'll need-for example, information about an accident affecting traffic on your way to work. In-car Google Earth 3D mapping is also a recent ERL development, as is the creation of interior soundscapes. That can make the driving experience more pleasant; imagine hearing, for example, sounds of the forest in immersive surround sound while stuck in traffic.

So VW's next-generation information and entertainment systems will be better thanks to its Electronics Research Lab, but it is also working on technologies that are further down the road, such as self-driving cars and advanced powertrains. The ERL has also been closely involved in VW's recent launch of an electric Golf test fleet in the United States.

Although the ERL has been in operation since 1998, it underwent a big expansion in 2011 and has begun to accelerate the pace of its technological deployment in the face of increasing competition for the connected-mobility experience of tomorrow. Since VW is already outgunned in that arena by companies such as Ford, General Motors and Toyota, the effort is crucially needed if VW hopes to continue its incredible growth trajectory.

What it means to you: VW may be a bit behind the times with in-car tech, but its Electronics Research Lab is on the case, hoping to close that gap and introduce more advanced tech in the near future.

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Volkswagen Playing Catch-Up with Advanced Tech - Autotrader