New innovations in mobility and transportation are almost daily topics in the news. Who will win the race in electric cars? Can you really trust autonomous vehicles? Whose fault is it when an artificial intelligence causes the death of a human being? We headed to the Audi headquarters to find out.

When I learned that Audi was organizing an innovation summit concerning the future of mobility, I knew I wanted to get in on the action. Speakers included some of the biggest names in their respective fields, from tinkering with computers, playing with robots and flying around in space all the way to environmental anarchism. What else was there to do but to apply and find out what Ingolstadt has to offer in addition to being the birthplace of the Illuminati and Frankenstein’s monster?

The second ever Mobility Quotient! innovation summit gathered together over 700 experts from the automotive, technology, and design industries to discuss the future of mobility and – most importantly – to reflect upon the role of transportation in our society.

What moves us today

Before looking into the larger scale of our human journey, let us think about the exponential rate of discovery and innovation that surround our everyday lives.

  • Tesla (founded 2003) has convinced even the most old-school dads to become fans of electric cars. By the end of 2018, even the slowpokes of the auto industry will have their own fully electric models on the roads. For the consumer, this means a larger selection of vehicles with a wider price range.

  • Uber (founded 2009) changed the way people were using taxis in big cities and set the new benchmark of what the user experience should be. Nowadays, every service that doesn’t feel as smooth as Uber will instantly get bad reviews.

  • Airbnb (founded 2008) has set the bar for sharing economy services. It is hardly a stretch to assume that the next areas to be affected by the model will be vehicles, tools and equipment and anything slightly too expensive for regular customers.

It is no wonder many businesses built around transportation have a lot of redefining in the works.

Throughout its history, the auto industry has revolved around quite the same basic principle: creating an automobile with specific traits (power, looks, space, safety), and selling the said device to the most suitable buyer. The new owner will then drive the car around for a few good years until something more advanced comes along. As a customer, you are expected to repeat this cycle until you get too old to drive, and use public transportation for the remainder of your senior years.

For an understanding of the future, look to the past. You really should check out Audi’s own museum if you are anywhere near Ingolstadt.

 

But things change. The amount of cars has grown, and the time spent in traffic has blown up. As time is our most valuable asset, getting from A to B does not seem to be worth the exchange. Let us keep in mind that we are purely discussing transportation here, instead of the more abstract and novel idea of the joy of driving. This rarely overlaps with your morning commute, so it is no wonder we are constantly trying to find methods of mobility with less friction. In the long run, and on a philosophical level, we are talking about survival of the most suitable contenders.

Steve Wozniak gave an example of how to fit in to your environment and spoke about the times when they invented the iPod at Apple. He claimed that Apple would never have been as successful had they focused only on what they used to be good at.

 

What moves us tomorrow

Regarding the summit itself, I was glad to see there was an atmosphere of positive doubtfulness and a will to embrace change. Audi had decided to shed light on their own development projects related to the most current challenges of the industry. Perhaps the most memorable aspect was the fact that user-centric design had been chosen to be the central focus of all workshops. This enabled us to approach questions such as who we are as people, what we want and especially why we want certain things.

The workshops were run by Audi employees – every group had their own methods and best practices.

 

The workshop topics ranged from ethical questions of autonomous driving (building trust, adding safety and comfort with machine learning) intertwining start-up inventiveness with corporate resources and involving the end-users in the innovation process – just to mention a few.

One task in the workshops was to think of ways to involve customers in co-creating new digital services. We created a concept called Beta Driver Program, where selected customers would be allowed to test and suggest new software features and give instant feedback to the development team through different touchpoints. I visualized the idea later on using the open-sourced Audi Design System. Disclaimer: This is an imaginary concept and Audi isn’t involved in it.

 

Audi has already made advantages with these themes and wanted to validate ideas with groups of smart individuals. It was inspiring to get to work with these advanced ideas and tangible concepts with real professionals. When you mix these new concepts with over 100 years of car production experience, you begin to realize that the fresh players in this field are actually missing a great deal of basic foundation that the big companies have. It’s easier to update your thinking than to acquire the experience the actual manufacturing requires from the outside.

Transparency and collaboration

So, what does it mean to update your thinking? One of the key factors in creating change is the collaboration with agile partners. The more the transportation industry becomes digitalized, the more we need to rely on software and interfaces. Respectively, the experience for the end-user should stay consistent regardless of whether we are inside our vehicle or discussing with it via our smartwatch. Succeeding in this requires skill and willfulness to create a multi-vendor environment with the absolute best expert groups for research, design and technology who are used to working in multidisciplinary teams and involving the end-users in all phases. Even the leanest processes are useless if the team is unable to communicate or understand the needs or purposes of others.

The fully electric Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo – first introduced in a PS4 game and then turned into a real car. How cool is that?

To sum it up

All in all, MQ! was one of the most well thought out summits I have ever been to. I gained some great philosophical ideas from the industry experts but was also able to get down to the nitty-gritty in the workshops. Moreover, the future product portfolio of Audi seems very promising, even though I myself still drive a 10-year-old Audi TTS, often vilified as the go-to choice for the new media entrepreneurs. But that should be enough for me, right?

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