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Innovation in the Automotive Industry

Ken and Justin
UMD mechanical engineering students (l-r) Kenneth Behrman and Justin Olson.
Audi provided transportation for the US. students. This trip was through the Bavarian Alps.

University of Minnesota Duluth mechanical engineering students Kenneth Behrman and Justin Olson spent their summer hard at work for Audi, one of the world's top automobile companies. The pair was part of an initiative by Audi, The Future of Mobility Practicum, to help Audi gain multiple perspectives of the automotive industry’s future.

Audi is known as an innovative company. They brought in students, prospective engineers, designers and architects, from the United States, including students from Boston, Texas, California, Ohio, and Duluth. The students were given the task to develop visionary concepts for the future of mobility.

Located in Ingolstadt, Germany, the Audi factory is as large as a city, housing 35,000 employees. The students did not work in the factory, instead they conducted their research in a separate, off-site facility with offices, computers, and a fully-functioning automotive garage. They were divided into three different groups, researching safety and security, future cars, and infrastructure. All three groups spent much of their time discussing products, ideas, and concepts such as autonomous (self-driving) vehicles.

Behrman was placed in the group studying the safety and security of futuristic vehicles. “Cars are safer than they’ve ever been,” Behrman said. “Part of the job, at this point in time, is just helping people understand how truly safe they are in their cars.”

Audi, along with all global automobile manufacturers, is studying autonomous vehicles. “The technology is there to make cars drive down the highway by themselves, and react faster than a human to dangerous road conditions,” Behrman said. “Unfortunately, they can't merge, do four-way stops, or navigate roundabouts. There is still a long way to go.”

Currently, there are laws in the United States and Germany stating that a human must be in direct control of a vehicle. A large-scale retooling of public infrastructure would also be required to successfully integrate autonomous cars. The task assigned to this group of researchers was to analyze the future of such laws and the public infrastructure required to bring autonomous vehicles to a global audience.

Audi engineers Malte Möller and Florian Ober designed the program because they wanted to receive input from outside their factory. They hoped the 12 students would not just to develop concepts for the "urban mobility of tomorrow," but would also build bridges between two continents and two cultures.

"German people are known for their professionalism and attention to detail, but adherence to rules makes new ideas more difficult," said Behrman. Their education system determines their skills and talents early in life. “They do what they’re supposed to do, but the idea of packing everything up and moving to Hollywood to try and make it big is unheard of,” Behrman said.

It wasn’t all work. The students received catered meals, hotel rooms, brand new vehicles to share, and time to travel. Behrman seized the opportunity for experiences that are borderline-transcendental for automotive enthusiasts. “I drove on three of the 10 best driving roads in the world. I drove down winding, windy, high-altitude roads in the Bavarian Alps, and I went to the Nürburgring 24-hour endurance race.” Behrman also traveled throughout Europe, driving and camping in Austria, Switzerland and France, and flying to Greece and Spain.

The group of 12 U.S. students chosen to work with Audi in summer 2014.


mentor mentor Ken and a castle
Kenneth Behrman with mentor Florian Ober. Kenneth Behrman with mentor Malte Möller. Behrman and Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.

Audi's article about the program

Written by Zach Lunderberg, September 2014.

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