Computing is the new horsepower, says Audi CEO

Audi e-tron images

Automakers that once competed mostly over the power of their engines are now striving over a much less tangible sort of power as they race to develop automated automobiles – computing.

New Audi CEO Markus Duesmann is assembling a team of about 200 engineers in parent company Volkswagen Group for developing a new computer-driven vehicle system, he informed Reuters.

Dubbed “Project Artemis” after the Ancient Greek goddess of hunting, the plan is to compete – and overtake – Tesla, largely viewed as the industry leader in software.

“When it comes to digitalization we are lagging behind – for now,” Duesmann said during an interview at Audi’s headquarters located in Ingolstadt, southern Germany.

With the advent of self-driving vehicles, automobiles need processors and software operating systems to analyze data from radar, lidar, and camera sensors to evaluate driving reflexes so cars can navigate and avoid crashes on their own.

In the past, bigger vehicles with more powerful engines were automatically better. Now computing power and intelligence will be a major metric for defining what is a premium, forcing Audi and Volkswagen to remodify the way they design cars.

“Technical development of vehicles is no longer organized according to a vehicle’s size, but by the car’s electrical and electronic architecture,” Duesmann said, describing that premium and value models would now differentiate themselves as per their computing power and sensor levels.

To construct the new system, Duesmann is assembling a “results-oriented” engineering team to work on accelerating the development of a scalable vehicle platform.

“(Project) Artemis will be smaller than a Formula One team. I am thinking around 200 staff,” he stated.

“To develop a new car with so many new features in this period until 2024 is so demanding that it is probably without precedent. That’s why we have decided to work with a separate unit,” stated Duesmann, who is also head of research at Volkswagen Group.

The concept is that an agile development group will be less obstructed by the bureaucracy within Volkswagen Group, which owns brands such as Bugatti, Bentley, Porsche, Skoda, and Lamborghini, as well as Audi and VW.

VW has over 10,000 workers working in research and development at the automaker’s Wolfsburg headquarters alone.

Artemis will be led by Alexander Hitzinger, who played a significant role in autonomous driving at Volkswagen and made the Porsche racing team that won Le Mans endurance race in 2015, 2016, 2017. Hitzinger has worked at Apple as well, where he set up and managed product development for autonomous automobiles.

The Artemis team will harness the engineering know-how in the Volkswagen Group but have the authority to use outside partners as well.

“If we gain speed with a supplier or with a software company, we will consider it. Speed is extremely important,” Duesmann said. China will also play a role, Duesmann added, though he refused to elaborate.

Project Artemis will sit together with Volkswagen Group’s Car. Software organization being also based in Ingolstadt.

“They need each other,” Duesmann said, adding many of Artemis’s staff would remain embedded within Volkswagen Group brands, but get instructions from Ingolstadt.

“The result will be a common concept which is scalable for all of us,” Duesmann added. “The first model will be an Audi.”

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