Stuttgart, Germany-based automotive icon Porsche opened the Porsche Digital Lab in Berlin in August 2016 with the express aim of fostering innovation. The lab employs 12 people, tasked with identifying and testing new technologies.
Digital expert and business information scientist Anja Hendel is co-leading this international team, together with Mahdi Derakhshanmanesh. Prior to Porsche, Hendel was head of IT for project portfolio management at pharmaceutical company Celesio AG.
Hendel told CMO.com about the reasons for Porsche’s intense focus on innovation and the practical applications it’s beginning to spawn.
CMO.com: What is the Porsche Digital Lab, and how did the idea first come about?
Hendel: The Digital Lab is Porsche’s technology laboratory. It’s where we explore and test innovative tech, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the internet of things. New technologies can have a huge influence on a company like ours and offer added value for our employees and our customers. We created the lab to rise to the challenge of digitization. We’re combining 70 years of automotive tradition with the smart technologies of tomorrow to create what we call "Next Level German Engineering."
CMO.com: What kind of work are you doing in Berlin?
Hendel: In the Digital Lab, we’re primarily working to improve internal business processes. At the moment we’re focusing on testing new digital technologies within Porsche AG. We’re collaborating with creative people in technology companies, startups, and scientific institutions to reach our goals. We chose Berlin because it’s a cosmopolitan city with a flourishing tech startup scene. The access to talent and proximity to exciting companies made it the perfect place for our lab.
CMO.com: How will digital transformation and advances such as AI change the automotive industry?
Hendel: Digital transformation is changing the entire industry and all areas of the company: our products and services, the way we interact with customers, and our internal business processes. We’re always working hard to make the Porsche driving experience even better for our customers, and we keep them updated on developments through the Porsche newsroom and our blog.
CMO.com: What makes cars such an interesting platform for digital applications?
Hendel: It’s exciting to think of the car as a mobile device, which allows us to hold virtual meetings or check email, for example. The only difference is that this device takes us from A to B rather than fitting in our pocket. Add to that the advent of mass-produced semi- and fully autonomous cars, and you can see that it’s a thrilling time to be in this industry.
CMO.com: Can you tell us which technologies you are currently experimenting with in the Porsche Digital Lab?
Hendel: We’re primarily concerned with blockchain, AI, and IoT, exploring how we can integrate them into our working practices. Our work ranges from trend-scouting and brainstorming to the construction of minimum viable products (MVPs), which we test with our internal and external customers.
CMO.com: How do your findings flow into development and production at Porsche?
Hendel: We’re currently testing something called SoundDetective AI in our production processes. The AI supports the execution of certain steps in the assembly line, in very noisy production halls where a person might struggle. For example, the fitters often can’t hear if plug connections have been set correctly.
Workers can see the information deciphered by the AI on small computers or through signals on a wristband. This gives them important feedback at every step of the process in a constantly vibrating and oscillating environment that can make vigilance challenging.
CMO.com: What digital applications can we expect in the near future?
Hendel: By the time this is published my answer will probably be out of date. We recently christened our first fully electric vehicle “Taycan,” which is a big development. We’re really excited about autonomous driving, too. There is so much more innovation still to come here in Berlin, I’m sure about that.