In Potsdam, Volkswagen designers and digitalization experts are working together on the car of the future.
People visiting the Volkswagen Group Future Center Europe will not find themselves in a typical corporate office. The glass walls are covered in colorful Post-Its; between them you can see computer displays with detailed sections of cars with seats and steering wheels. Simulators equipped with virtual reality headsets have been set up in a large hall. The atmosphere is that of a startup. Using unconventional methods, people from different disciplines address the question: What will the automobile of the future be like? “Digitalization affects both society and Volkswagen, and thus our design strategy as well,” says Peter Wouda, Director of Vehicle Design at the Volkswagen Group Future Center Europe.
How does digitalization affect automobiles and their use? Which features and functions will be important in the future? How will they be used? These are the questions the ambitious, diverse young team is tackling. Many of the staff here have training not only in technical areas, but also in artistic or creative design. The modern, minimalist building on the banks of the Tiefer See lake in Potsdam was extended and converted into one of three Volkswagen Group Future Centers in 2016, the others being near San Francisco and in Beijing. The mix of disciplines and cultures will help to broaden perspectives and find new approaches. After all, the challenges at hand are great.
Fully automated driving will certainly fundamentally change what users expect from their vehicles, both in how they are used and which functions they will have. “When passengers no longer have to concentrate on driving, a totally new experience is possible,” says Peter Wouda. “We must ask ourselves how we will deal with time and space in the context of individual mobility. In doing so, we can move into and shape new fields.” Hanging on a wall in the Future Center are ideas and designs for such concepts. Among other things, there is a car without a steering wheel and foot pedals.
When the focus is no longer on driving itself, the vehicle of the future will change fundamentally in terms of interface design, operating logic, interior concept, and infotainment. When developing new concepts, the Future Center always focuses on the passenger experience. Volkswagen is focusing on a systematic interconnection of vehicle design and UX design (user experience).
The experts of the Future Center have to predict the future a little. To facilitate this, so-called “seat boxes” are situated between the offices. Car seats and a steering wheel are simulated, while mounted screens and sensors allow the staff to try out new developments immediately. “We want to be able to directly experience all of our ideas”, says Wouda. Inside one car simulator made of wood, felt and plastic, an interface can be operated by eye movement. In a different open simulator, an employee with a virtual-reality headset can view various car interiors at the press of a button. Designers from various company locations can thus evaluate and create designs together.
The Future Center is all about sharing knowledge and designs from the early stages on and working together, even across brand and department lines. By the way, there aren’t any executive offices in Potsdam anymore: they have long since become meeting rooms and working spaces where the Volkswagen Group is working on the future of individual mobility.