Currently reading: Eight pieces of advanced VW Group tech coming soon
An insight into the VW Group's Electronic Research Lab in Silicon Valley reveals a glut of advanced new tech destined for future cars

Volkswagen Group cars with the ability to self-drive and self-park will be on the market within five years, according to engineers at VW’s Electric Research Laboratory (ERL) in Silicon Valley.

The ERL is tasked with being inspired by integrating the latest electronic innovation to emerge from Silicon Valley, home to the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook, into VW Group products, making sure it is up with and ahead of trends.

The autonomous technology is a large part of its development, but many other projects are ongoing, including cars that learn their environment, bespoke smartphone apps, and innovative new safety and security features, some of which are detailed below. 

Traffic Jam Pilot – a first step to autonomous driving 

The Traffic Jam Pilot system has been previewed in an Audi A7 concept car and is tipped to go into production in the next-gen Audi A8 in 2016. Traffic Jam Pilot takes complete control of the car at speeds of up to 40mph in traffic.

VW has so-far undertaken tens of thousands of miles of testing autonomous technology – or piloted as VW now calls it, in reference to an auto-pilot system on aircraft – on US roads.

Autonomous technology is made up of laser sensors, laser scanners, stereo cameras and ultrasonic cameras, largely existing technology adapted for new functions. The ERL’s head of driver assistance systems Jörg Schlinkheider said the technology VW is developing is scalable, with the view of fitting it to everything from an entry-level VW Golf to a range-topping Audi A8. 

Beyond the sensors and cameras, Schlinkheider said it was necessary for the car to have HD maps that can tell the car what’s around the corner if it can’t see and adapt according, and also complex algorithms for dealing with the control inputs and scenarios such as overtaking. All this info will feed into a ‘decider’ system, an ECU the size of an iPad.

Autonomous parking 

An autonomous parking function is also likely to appear around 2016, the tech allowing the driver to get out of the car and park their car using their smartphone once a suitable space has been found. It can even squeeze into tight spaces with a tolerance of just 20cm each side. VW says the smartphone operation is important as it allows the manoeuvre to be instantly aborted if danger is detected.

Steering-wheel mounted touchpads

At an early stage of development, these touchpads are mounted on either side of the steering wheel and are designed to allow the driver to input commands using their thumbs. Much of the research centres on the global potential; while input is simple enough with an English or Western European alphabet, it becomes much trickier with scripts commonplace elsewhere in the world.

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Connected cars

VW is hopeful that there will be some sort of car-to-car connectivity to emerge within the next five years, allowing cars to talk to one another about a whole host of functions – such as traffic and other road conditions – to improve traffic flow and safety.

3D printing

The 3D printing technology VW uses at the ERL is important as it allows new products to be proved quicker and developed faster. Prototypes can be made in a matter of hours rather than weeks, and allows for faster development between iterations and, ultimately, a quicker route to production.

iBeetle app

The iBeetle app is already available to allow full iPhone integration into the VW Beetle, but does demonstrate the kind of work the ERL undertakes. The app docks into the car and allows functions such as the ability for tweets and Facebook posts to be read on the move, pictures to be taken and uploaded directly to Facebook, and the ability to record driving logs and data – such as the amount of time spent driving with the roof down – and uploaded to social media. 

Photo Souvenir

This advanced piece of technology is designed to show that a car is capable of machine learning. Four GoPro cameras are mounted to each corner of the car and take pictures every five seconds of a journey. Over a two hour journey, around 6000 pictures have been taken, creating 32GB of data, far too much to trawl through to pick the most picturesque shots along the route.

The car is however able to pre-select the best pictures, and give you a small selection of pictures to upload to social media. In the first instance, it needs a small amount of guidance on what pictures you like and would select from a large sample, but is then able to see what you choose and pick equivalent pictures accordingly.

This technology is not so much about the fact you can take pictures of your summer driving holiday route, but more about the fact the car can learn what you like and your interests, and adapt accordingly.

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Smart Accessories

Accessories such as surfboards and bikes are linked to the car through the cloud. If they were to be stolen, you’d be informed on your smartphone or smartwatch. The ultimate goal would be for increased amounts of connectivity between all sorts of products, so when the stolen product resurfaces, it would be able to connect with a local piece of smart technology and state that it is stolen.

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Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Add a comment…
AHA1 10 November 2014

Useless giimicks

Autonomous driving will require international level permissions and industry level co-operation so go it alone systems have no future beyond making a universal system possible. At the other end of the scale 32gb of photos of road signs on every trip suggests someone in their studio needs a bit of a kick. Howabout instead a decent inbuilt camera system with 360 deg view and burnt-in speed and time data which would be very useful for accident investigation?
Walking 10 November 2014

Why Buy

Are car manufacturers becoming taxi/hire firms. Why would you buy an autonomous car? Order with your smart phone pick you up and take you where you want to go. Depending on journey type, number of passengers, luggage, weather and budget pick the car for the occasion. I previously looked at only using hire cars but was put off by the inconvenience and lead time getting access to the car. This solves all these problems and drives for you.

The next step should be urban pods connecting with intercity tracks.

rybo1 10 November 2014

future junk

I for one, am not impressed with any these gizmos. I can foresee many hours at the dealership when these items malfunction. Why add more distractions to a good driving experience?