INNOVATION 
IS IN THE AIR

INNOVATION <br/>IS IN THE AIR
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New wireless and mobile technologies benefit from San Francisco’s steel Sutro Tower, which also hosts radio and television antennae. Photo: Shutterstock
Audi Innovation Research is taking on the future of driving
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It’s no secret that the automotive industry is at a crossroads. The internal combustion engine is still with us and will be for some time—but the fuel and powertrain mix has become very diverse. Drivers continue to take the wheel, but vehicles may soon be making road trips on their own. What comes next for mobility stands out as the key topic throughout automotive companies around the world. For Audi, that discussion extends beyond Ingolstadt and other headquarters and is being engineered at places like Audi Innovation Research.
With campuses in Ingolstadt, Beijing and San Francisco, AIR stands at the forefront of the mobility revolution, focusing on the practical technologies and the philosophical implications of our changing future. Each office plays a slightly different role, and their discoveries are widely shared between teams. China focuses on Audi customers’ living environment, Ingolstadt conducts cutting-edge market and trend research, and San Francisco is a technology incubator, working on new ideas and startup partnerships.
The city of Beijing provides the dynamic backdrop for the Audi Innovation Research group there that explores customers’ living environments. Photo: Getty Images
The application of smart technology
With Larissa Braun becoming the Director of AIR SF in March, the emphasis shifted slightly—according to Senior Innovation Strategist Mira Dechant in San Francisco—toward “human-centric design” initiatives as well as continued partnerships with universities and collaborations with start-ups.
As Dechant said in an email, the goal of AIR is to “provide customers with a premium experience and make every experience recognizably Audi: how it feels when you are in the vehicle, how the vehicle performs, and how the technology and craftsmanship enriches the drive.”
To that end, AIR SF does a significant amount of user testing for all kinds of service ideas in the world of automotive technologies. Then it takes the insights gained by testing and puts them into prototypes and testing in the marketplace. In other words, the team takes in customer research and helps implement the findings into innovations in and out of Audi vehicles.
For example, AIR SF focuses on questions like “How might we provide services to California EV drivers that enhance the experience of charging their cars?” The hope is that the answers are found in the engineering sphere with reduced charging times and quick charging units that work with current and future Audi e-tron® models but also in the experiential sphere, with practical applications of where to put charging stations for e-tron® drivers who make road trips in the future.
Audi Innovation Research stands at the forefront of the mobility revolution, focusing on the practical technologies and the philosophical implications of our changing future.
Left to right: AIR Ingolstadt monitors innovation trends and coordinates with the American and Chinese offices.
Director Larissa Braun recently began leading AIR SF.
Senior Innovation Specialist Mira Dechant in San Francisco said AIR aims to make every experience unmistakably Audi.
Photos: Audi AG
When San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, it became a technological marvel as the longest suspension bridge (at 4,200 feet) in the world. Photo: Offset
Connected to Silicon Valley
The San Francisco office, which opened in 2012, was chosen for a reason: its proximity to disruption. Disruption is the mantra of nearby Silicon Valley. It’s a way of incorporating technology and ideas into established industries in such a way that they are upended, and all assumptions about them are challenged.
AIR follows that kind of disruptive thinking so the rest of the company challenges assumptions about the future. And because San Francisco is an incubator and a destination for budding entrepreneurs, emerging digital technologies and disruptive innovation, AIR is poised to network among the smartest and nimblest kind of disruptive thinkers.
The big question focuses on how users will interact with the technology—in this case, an Audi vehicle. How will drivers adapt to new technologies? How will they respond to new applications of artificial intelligence? How will we change thinking on EV range?
These are the topics that AIR SF is investigating right now. By operating at the intersection of technology, design and mobility, the team is focused on the big picture ideas of our new automotive future—things like the connected universe, big data, digitization and AI—so we are better equipped to identify the changing needs of future consumers and new market opportunities.
“Because the work we do can add value not only to the global AIR network but to a wide range of other parties within Audi,” Dechant said, “we describe our approach as falling into three different spaces: Inquire, Inspire and Ignite.”
Coming soon to an Audi dealership near you.
“We describe our approach as falling into three different spaces: Inquire, Inspire and Ignite.”
AIR staff in Beijing and San Francisco collaborate with each other to learn and apply trends and disruptive technologies. Photo: Audi AG