Q&A Session with our CTO Alexandre Haag

We selected main statements by Alexandre Haag to get what’s different about Autonomous Intelligent Driving and what role does the start-up have within the VW Group.
What are your responsibilities at Autonomous Intelligent Driving?
I’m responsible for everything that’s related to the car: software, hardware and for simulation as well as system engineering.
Before autonomous driving becomes reality, some questions need to be answered. What is important from a technical point of view?
There are many technical aspects we have to consider: For example, one question is around LiDAR (light detection and ranging). For us the question is not if we need LiDAR, but how much do we need? Can we go with a few beams or do we need a higher density? Another question is the importance of maps. We believe that maps function in a similar way to a driver’s memory, remembering what the road ahead of us looks like. In other words, HD maps act like a long range “sensor”, allowing us to see ahead by 10 to 20 seconds. Finally, I think there is also one question on the perception side. How can we work not just frame per frame but also look at the differences across frame – e.g. motion, which the human eye is very sensitive at detecting.
There are a lot of competitors like Waymo, Uber, …? What is different about Autonomous Intelligent Driving?
Generally, there are two types of competitors: There are traditional automotive companies (e.g. OEMs) and the other big groups are tech companies and start-ups. In my opinion the tech companies are much better at software engineering and Artificial Intelligence. They can be more innovative and faster, but at the end, the software has to be installed in the cars and here I think they have a lot of learning to do. They don’t just have to understand how the car itself works, but also understand the environment, how to make inexpensive hardware that can work reliably in extreme conditions, the regulations and how you achieve homologation. And that’s what the traditional automotive companies are good at. So for Autonomous Intelligence Driving I think we have the chance to be right in the middle of these two, to combine the best of these two worlds. We have a good balance of being connected to the automotive industry, but we are not drawn into traditional lengthy processes. Our big advantage is that we are able to attract talent from both worlds that bring extensive knowledge in software engineering. I think our chance is to combine these people with different backgrounds and get the right mix to develop the car for the future.
What role does Autonomous Intelligent Driving have within the VW Group?
Our role is to develop a self-driving software stack with the hardware reference design, to become the supplier for the whole VW Group and to function as a centre of excellence for autonomous driving.
You are responsible for the development of production grade software solutions. How much is actually developed in-house?
As much as possible. Everything that is critical we are doing in-house. Traditionally car manufactures have kept the engine design in-house, because that’s what makes the car unique. With the electrification there will be less differentiation at that level. The next thing for an OEM will be to define what makes the car drive, which is going to be the software for self-driving cars. That’s the reason we strongly believe in controlling as much of the stack as possible.
You worked for Adept (now part of Omron) & Tesla and now for Autonomous Intelligent Driving – Why? What was your motivation to join a start-up?
The motivation is a unique opportunity. It’s really combining the best of both parts: A start-up environment with the backing of a big group. We have the freedom of a start-up to develop and create our own lightweight processes together with our own departments (e.g. Strategy, Legal, Purchasing, IT and Human Resources). We are able to set-up an open and agile working environment that attracts experienced talent. Unlike many other start-ups we already have a customer base and get access to the technology and knowledge within the VW Group. So, it’s the best of everything!
What’s the biggest challenge in your job?
To combine both worlds – the agility of software engineering and the reliability, traceability and the safety of automotive engineering.
What things have you already learned at Autonomous Intelligent Driving?
Lots of things! I’m exposed to a lot of different companies and in-house groups. I have learned in much more detail how the automotive industry works, how they organize what they do in-house and what they don’t do. In addition, I have learned a lot about existing technology, new lidars coming out, new compute platforms but also how fast deep learning is progressing.
Why should people join us?
It’s a great place to work. We strongly believe in what we do. We all care about developing the best product and are committed as a team to achieve our goals.
Finally, self-driving cars are coming – Do we need a license for self-driving cars?
It will definitely take time for self-driving cars to replace all existing cars and for a period of time it will still be convenient to use a non-self-driving car. However, at some point in the future, in my opinion manually-driven cars will follow the path of horse-transportation: you do it for fun in a controlled environment (test track), but not in public.