Volkswagen opened its first Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) in 1998, basing it in Silicon Valley. Volkswagen uses ERL to research new car technology. Its proximity to both Stanford and UC Berkeley, and the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley, help it recruit employees and keep up with the cutting edge in technology.
ERL moved from Palo Alto to Belmont, farther up the San Francisco peninsula. The official ribbon cutting to dedicate the new location was on April 29, 2011. Attendees included Volkswagen of America CEO Jonathan Browning, ERL Executive Director Burkhard Huhnke, Nvidia Vice President Rob Csongor, and California Congressional Rep. Anna G. Eshoo.
The parking lot in front of ERL hosts these two electric vehicle charging stations. ERL is set to host a fleet of 20 eGolfs, electric versions of the Golf that Volkswagen will use to research electric power-trains.
One of the most exciting projects being researched at ERL is the integration of Google Earth with navigation systems. This integration has initially been implemented in the Audi A7. Taking it a step further, ERL is working on adding Google Street View, showing a photo of the actual location programmed into the navigation system.
This test station shows the integration of a smartphone with a car's head unit. Volkswagen is experimenting with terminal mode to replicate the phone's apps and functions on the car's LCD. Researchers are working on how much information to display depending on whether the car is parked or moving.
This demonstration shows how Volkswagen is looking at using circular LCDs in its instrument clusters. Although circular LCDs exist, they are more expensive than rectangular screens. Volkswagen is trying to determine if they have a real advantage over rectangular screens that would justify the cost.
To test driver distraction, ERL set up this simulator. It uses a real car in which researchers can install different infotainment features and interface controllers. The simulator includes equipment to monitor the driver's eye, face, and head movement to determine driver distraction.
Researchers test out sensor technology at ERL that can make cars aware of their surroundings. On the table behind the screen is a spinning sensor. What it perceives is being shown on the large monitor. Researchers can use this setup to test software algorithms for identifying people and objects.
ERL researchers are trying to develop a driver assistance system where the car will recognize whether a traffic light is red, yellow, or green. Once implemented, it could be tied to an automatic braking system, to prevent people from accidentally running red lights.
As related research, staff at ERL showed off these robots, used for a robot soccer league. Honing the robots allows researchers to test object recognition sensors and software that may end up being used in cars.