source: Audi of America
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“Diversity gives you different viewpoints. It helps you make better products,” said Pilar Quiroz, senior engineer of Geofencing at the Audi Automated Driving Development (A2D2) Lab in Silicon Valley.
There, she is helping develop the next-generation Audi vehicles – specifically the technologies that power them. Pilar hails from Mexico City, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The experience she brings, coupled with her expertise, complements a a team of a dozen engineers from all over the world who are helping develop driver-assistance technologies specifically for North America and China.
Pilar continued: “Our development team grew up learning to drive different ways in different places. What we’re doing is developing technologies that can be ready when the customer is, no matter who the customer is.”
The A2D2 team draws pride from its diversity. From the U.S., Mexico, India, Germany, China, Japan, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Brazil, and all the waypoints in between, the lab in San Jose is a convergence of divergent thought, a community as much as it is an office, and, ultimately, a model for how to drive development of technologies that will literally and figuratively help drive customers within the next few years.
Built by a diverse team, engineered for North America
The U.S. is unlike anywhere else in the world. Engineers and programmers converge on Silicon Valley because of its thrill, its adventure – the power to create.
At the A2D2 lab, there may be people from all over the world, but the office is a perfect storm of talent and opportunity.
The engineers working inside A2D2 are a group of women and men who are creating new semi-autonomous driver-assistance systems. Their multitude of talents include systems engineering; electric vehicle development; computer vision and artificial intelligence; speaking a multitude of languages that lower communications barriers between offices in the U.S., Germany, and China; organizational management; production engineering in Audi’s Mexico manufacturing facility; acoustics; chassis engineering; Formula 1 racecar engineering; robotics; automation; quality management; hardware and software development; psychology, Human-Machine Interface and ergonomics.
The opportunity: Making systems that meet customers where they’re at. In many cases, customers leapfrog technology generations with each new vehicle purchase. Customers need to be able to adjust with a minimal learning curve.
For instance, adaptive cruise control – where a car will follow a preset distance behind the car in front of it – has been on the market for just over a decade. The technology is improving, with self-steering adjustments, new ways the cameras and radars talk to each other – sensor fusion – and how the driver interacts with it all. The tricky part is that driving is a team sport – in that the driver needs to be able to understand how the machine works without an over-reliance on its capabilities. And that comes down to communication.
Why Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley is where visionaries chart the future. It’s like any industry – oftentimes, we never see the challenges or setbacks. But we almost always see the successes, whether it’s an app or technology that somehow changes the world.
The mantra of Silicon Valley is often “Move fast and break stuff.” That philosophy has served the area well with apps and pushing technology forward, especially when updates and patches can fix issues as they arise, but it doesn’t always make sense in the automotive industry where cars that can weigh upwards of two tons can move down the road at speeds exceeding 70 mph. Selling Beta products to consumers simply doesn’t cut it.
In philosophy and function, Audi is developing technologies that inform drivers without cognitive overload; direct without distraction; and deliver on their intended function. The fact that all of these technologies are being tested with professional engineers with great intention, drawing on the talents of engineers from all over the world and local startups ensures redundancy and deliberation in process. The A2D2 team and their mandate show the brand’s commitment toward developing and testing levels of automation systematically with deliberateness and without embellishment. The brand is looking to educate consumers through its work with the Partnership for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) and through its communications as we move closer toward autonomous driving.
What’s inside that counts
Led by Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) Senior Director Frank Grosshauser, the lab opened in 2020 with a small, dedicated team starting from their home offices and filling their San Jose workspaces as they could. The office itself is a nondescript building with a small, black four rings badge on a beige cement serving as the only giveaway of what’s inside. It’s down the street from a cadre of tech firms, startups, and development labs also vying to cultivate much of the best software development talent in the world.
Around back, several large garage bays open to a fleet of Audi Q7s and A8s, most equipped with cargo racks that house various hardware and software systems on them – validating next-generation cameras, sensors, GPS, and artificial intelligence systems that are being developed to work together.
It’s the sense of camaraderie that helps the A2D2 team achieve its many goals, in the U.S. and for the international assignments they take on. One team member called it, “a cultural melting pot, where enthusiastic colleagues come together to create the future ADAS products.”
Senior Development Engineer Prasad Shingne summed it up as “an incredibly diverse group, due to many different paths from where its employees have come,” he said. “The department allows for a lot of opportunity to innovate. I hope that the department keeps taking full advantage of Silicon Valley and we can share that spirit throughout the company.”
While the outputs of the office won’t find their ways to consumers for a while longer, it’s evident they’re being made with care, with diverse viewpoints, and, ultimately, with an eye on the future, starting with the customer coming first.