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TOP GEAR

‘Playmobil’ from the Silicon Valley A beautiful veteran bus from the outside, engineer Dr Carlo Rummel has equipped a 42-year-old Kombi with state-of-theart technology

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r Carlo Rummel enjoys surfing, has a weakness for veteran vehicles and manages Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) in California. If a man with these characteristics converts a vehicle that is getting on in years, it is no surprise that he creates something where surfing happily blends with technology. The economist has christened the result ‘Chameleon’ as it is a Volkswagen bus with two faces. Externally, it is a standard 1964 Kombi (or Samba Bus as it is called in the United States), but concealed beneath this benign exterior is the latest technology from the Silicon Valley where the ERL has its headquarters. The bus has become a public relations tool for the 40-man team. “We want to showcase everything we are developing here and show how discreetly high-tech equipment can be concealed even in a veteran vehicle,” says the Institute’s manager. On behalf of Volkswagen, the ERL has set itself the task of researching new electronic systems for cars. It was decisively involved in the development of ‘Stanley’, an unmanned Touareg full of electronics that won the DARPA Grand 14 Volkswagen


Treasure chest: Dr Carlo Rummel converted a veteran bus into a high-tech toy

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The ‘switchable glass’ on the rear window serves as a projection surface for pictures

Challenge desert rally without a driver in 2005 (read more about ‘Stanley’ on page 18). What Rummel is particularly proud of in the bus is the rear window. “Switchable glass,” he says and presses a button. The glass which was transparent just a minute ago suddenly becomes opaque and non-transparent. “Liquid crystals are concealed in the window and switch states when supplied with current. Motorhomes will soon probably not need blinds any more.” The glass is also suitable as a first-class projection surface: “You can place camping chairs behind the bus and then watch films on the rear window,” explains the 42-year-old, who shares his year of birth with this special

Samba Bus. If you want to make it cosier, you can also watch the film inside. An extendable video screen has been installed between the front seats and the passenger compartment for this very purpose. A hand scanning device located in the fuel flap is used to open the car instead of a key. This recognises the correct person by the lines on his or her hand and unlocks the doors electrically. Carlo Rummel, who started the construction of the Volkswagen laboratory in 2002 and is very happy living in California with his wife and small son, has also thought about original American vehicle accessories, namely bumper stickers. The stickers on the bumpers of the ‘Chameleon’ offer hardware and software

The digital speedometer display also serves as a navigation system, reversing camera and the MP3 player

The central control panel also controls the messages which appear on the bumper sticker 16 Volkswagen


developers undreamt-of-possibilities. “We have found a very fine, flexible and shockproof film which can display writing and symbols like a screen.” This can be used to announce numerous customised messages to following traffic. The function of the old medium-wave radio has been changed to provide stereo sound. The sound system and the communications in the bus are controlled on the tuning controller. Anyone wanting to talk to the passengers in the third row can do so by using the microphone and loudspeaker. The instrument panel has also been redesigned. The mechanical circular speedometer has been replaced by a screen, on which it is possible to not only read the speed,

but also to view either the television picture from the rear camera during parking, the settings of the hi-fi system or a completely new navigation system (which obtains its satellite pictures via Google Earth). Everything is controlled by means of a ‘click wheel’, similar to that found on the Apple iPod, in the centre of the steering wheel. However, the bus still has excellent lowtech equipment as well. The vehicle’s steering does not have power steering, so there is no need to book those weight-training sessions in the gym. Not to forget the authentic hula-girl on the instrument panel that waggles her hips completely without the aid of any electronics – all she needs is a small pothole.

The authentic hula-girl waggles her hips without any electronics

THE ELECTRONICS RESEARCH LABORATORY History Founded in 1998 by Volkswagen, the aim of the ERL is to identify new technologies and accelerate their development into future production vehicles. First established as a trend and technology scouting office, its functions now cover most of the product development process, from advanced research to highly focused predevelopment tasks. People The ERL staff of almost 40 comprises engineers (mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers and social scientists), product and industrial designers as well as project managers. This technical staff is made up entirely of Masters- and PhD-level individuals who possess expertise in at least one of the ERL research fields.

Facilities Producing ‘living and breathing’ prototypes built into drivable vehicles is a hallmark of the ERL, and a key to its success. Several facilities and resources support these activities: • Well-stocked Electronics Lab that empowers engineers to design and build electronics from scratch, or to modify existing devices and controls; • Machine Shop containing equipment that enables engineers to build parts rapidly for hardware prototyping in automotivegrade metals and plastics; and • Fully-equipped Vehicle Workshop with vehicle diagnostics hardware, service bays for four cars, and technicians skilled in vehicle integration. Here prototypes are built into vehicles within days, or even hours, so that they can be tested, improved, and tested again.

Research Activities and Fields Working in cross-func tional teams, engineers in the ERL work simultaneously on a number of projects divided into the categories of Predevelopment (less than 5 years), Research (5-10 years) and Exploration (up to 10 years). Their nine primary fields of work include: • Speech and language • Car-to-car communications • Connectivity • Technology scouting and consulting • Input devices • Smart materials • Sensor technologies • Display technologies • United States market For more information about the Electronics Research Laboratory go to www.vwerl.com Volkswagen 17

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A beautiful veteran bus from the outside, engineer Dr Carlo Rummel has equipped a 42-year-old Kombi with state-of-the- art technology TOP GE...