Opening one's own vision, exploring, contaminating oneself with new ideas, creatively applying solutions that are apparently distant from one's world: these are the necessary conditions for innovation. In conversation with Fabrizio Longo, director of Audi Italia

It took just over a hundred days for everything to change. Because our certainties were undermined, bringing out a series of values ​​that were already part of our experience, but which are now essential to imagine a new idea of ​​the future. First of all, those of sustainability, safety, innovation, understood in an ethical dimension that always puts people at the center of their interests.

Those who had already invested in these values ​​now find themselves exercising a position of undisputed leadership, but also of social responsibility. Because if there is one thing we have learned, it is that progress is not built alone, but all together through the sharing of knowledge and visions. The automotive industry is well aware of this, a highly innovative creative sector from which the world of furniture design often draws ideas and solutions and which in turn feeds on contamination with other disciplines. An attitude, that for the future, which the months of emergency have only accelerated and strengthened in its founding values, as Fabrizio Longo, director of Audi Italia explains.

How is innovation in the automotive sector born and what are the external worlds to which it turns to develop cutting-edge technologies?

Opening one's own vision, exploring, contaminating oneself with new ideas, creatively applying solutions that are apparently distant from one's world: these are the necessary conditions for innovation. Also and above all in the automotive sector, always looking for solutions that anticipate the future. In the case of Audi, the examples of intersectoral contamination are many... From aerospace engineering to avionics, from chemistry to military ballistics, passing through environmental engineering and urban planning...

Give us some examples of innovations born thanks to cross-sectoral contamination processes.

Just to name a few, the centralized management of driving assistance systems, intelligent navigation and laser lighting adopted by our car manufacturer are the result of interdisciplinary contamination. Think of the images transmitted by space probes: continuous, broad spectrum images of what surrounds flying objects. An analysis strategy also applied by the cars of the Audi high-end family. The electronic control unit, thanks to the detection of data using radar sensors, cameras and ultrasound sensors, creates a continuous image of the environment surrounding the car. A real digital inspection’ without interruption of the surrounding world, so as to allow the assistance systems to intervene with precision and timeliness if they detect an obstacle.

Can technological innovation take its cue from non-scientific areas?

Our research also draws on cybernetics, more precisely on homeostasis, where it incorporates the theories of Cannon that underlie the automatic learning methods - called machine learning - of Audi Artificial Intelligence. According to studies by physiologist Walter Cannon, changes in internal balances take place in response to aggressive stimuli from outside. The AI, which operates reactively and predictively towards external events, acquires its own knowledge and calibrates the functions of the car based on the behavior and needs of both the driver and the surrounding reality. It proactively provides advice, averting any dangers in the bud and finds application both in the navigation systems characteristic of the entire range of our cars, and in the centralized management of driver assistance technologies.

From cars to mobility: in recent years the focus of automotive research has taken a leap in scale. Does it mean that architecture has a new space between the disciplines involved in innovation processes?

Since 2010, with the Audi Urban Future Initiative project, Audi has gathered around a table with representatives from different fields, to understand how to best model and face the mobility of tomorrow. For years we have been giving life, on the occasion of the FuoriSalone in Milan, to the Audi City Lab, a laboratory of ideas and innovation which, uniting urban planners, designers, curators and architects in a single debate, tackles the issues that characterize our time and society contemporary in its becoming. Confronting the minds that know how to invent a future that does not yet exist, new trends and new perspectives are intercepted. These, brought within the automotive field, create unexpected visions and solutions. Redesigning reality by placing the person at the center of technological progress becomes imperative in the choices of an aware brand. Hence our constant research efforts to evolve the interaction between man and the ecosystem through new solutions.

What are the major themes of innovation in the automotive sector today?

Mobility is undergoing a revolutionary transformation process. From simple manufacturers, brands evolve into mobility providers by investing in the digitization of their cars, in the interaction between vehicles and between them and infrastructures, as well as in the development of sustainable solutions.

It is a revolution that changes the methods of accessing the purchase and the very idea of ​​owning the car, changes the methods of use of the car and their interaction with the external environment. The engine of this revolution is technological innovation, which accelerates its development and the ability to create solutions with real benefits for the community and expresses its maximum potential by contaminating itself, as mentioned above, with other sectors.

All this allows us not only to confirm the motto “at the forefront of technology”, the historic claim of the four rings, but above all to develop ethical technologies, capable of translating safety, efficiency, comfort and time saving into benefits for the benefit of both individual and company.

By 2025, all of our manufacturing facilities will be carbon neutral. The Brussels plant is a pioneer in this regard. The Belgian plant, where the Audi e-tron range is built, is the first site in the world with carbon neutral certification in the premium segment. Gradually, all of our factories will draw exclusively on renewable energy sources.

At the same time, we are committed to a sustainable evolution of the production chain, ranging from the production of raw materials to recycling and the creation of a closed water cycle.

Then there is the big issue of connectivity. The automotive industry is working on the development of communication platforms between cars (Car-to-Car) and between cars and infrastructure (Car-to X). Thanks to the sharing of big data, the cars are thus able to communicate with the other cars in the vicinity, sending signals, information and warnings to drivers in case of danger: the information circulating between one vehicle and another includes position, direction and speed and elements processed by on-board systems to predict potential collisions. But the cars must also be able to dialogue with infrastructures, such as traffic lights, and in general with the smart city network. Car-to-Car and Car-to-X connectivity allows you to avoid queues, locate parking spaces, manage flows, save energy, share information on road signs, highlight atmospheric events and dangers. This technology allows the so-called collective intelligence, therefore the sharing and use of complex information by a large group of users.

But this technology also leads to a new use of time. Thus, an hour of life can be gained every day, the '25th hour': 60 minutes returned to motorists thanks to the driver assistance systems that allow you to travel with comfort and, above all, reference safety.


Cover photo: 25th Hour’ project: Audi is researching the use of time in robot car. In future, self-driving cars will navigate fluently through the city – without a steering wheel, without a driver (Seoul).