15. September 2021 | Magazine:

The future of automobility Professor Ina Schaefer on her work in the Federal Government's Expert Panel

Smarter, safer, more sustainable. The demands on the automotive industry of tomorrow are high. That is why the German government launched the Automotive Industry Future Fund in November 2020. One billion euros will be available for this purpose until 2025. To advise the Federal Government on the design of this sum, a committee of experts was set up, consisting of members from a wide range of areas relating to the mobility of the future. The committee is to develop thematic funding priorities and identify medium- to long-term action requirements for the industry. The committee is chaired by Professor Jens Südekum from Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and Professor Ina Schaefer from the Institute of Software Engineering and Automotive Informatics at the TU Braunschweig.

Especially the digitalization and decarbonization are trends that are making a decisive contribution to the transformation of the automotive industry, posing major challenges. The Automotive Industry Future Fund is intended to provide sustainable support for this transformation of the industry and supplier companies.

On the way to tomorrow

“We held our first meeting in February of this year,” reports Professor Ina Schaefer. “In order to develop the funding recommendations, we first drafted a catalogue of criteria. It was particularly important for us that our topics were not yet covered by the current funding landscape, but that we were convinced that funding could make a big difference. Of course, the work was challenging. There were many different opinions to consider. We had many tough but at the same time always constructive debates. In the end, our report was adopted unanimously.”

The experts identified three funding priorities, which they presented to Angela Merkel and other ministers at a digital summit in August: The first comprises holistic transformation concepts and regional cooperation. This bundle of measures aims to train and network people and small and medium-sized enterprises. The second funding priority concerns the digitalisation of the automotive industry. The focus here is on operating systems and software development methodology, among other things. The third aspect focuses on the transformation of manufacturing technology, in particular the circular economy.

Software in focus

“Because of my background, the topics of digitalization and software development are particularly important to me,” Professor Schaefer tells us. “These points are very important in terms of the future of the automotive industry, because value creation is shifting from hardware to software. People are less and less interested in what material the body of their car is made of and more and more interested in what the software behind it can do.” The ability to configure and customize one’s own vehicle to suit one’s needs has become commonplace, she says. “There are more configuration options for a modern mid-size vehicle than there are atoms in the universe.”

The further implementation of the funding recommendations and measures is currently being carried out by the federal government. Professor Ina Schaefer is now returning to the Institute of Software Engineering and Automotive Informatics. “The work in the Future Fund was very intense,” she recaps, “but it was definitely worth it, because the work was extremely interesting. In particular, the digital meeting led by Angela Merkel offered many exciting and inspiring impressions. I could already imagine working in political consulting again in the future. For now, though, I’m looking forward to continuing to do grassroots work, trying to prepare young students to go out into the world and make a difference themselves.”