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VW is looking for tangible benefits from its cooperation with Clausthal University (Photo: VW)

Software development for engine control units is both complex and expensive. That's why Volkswagen and Clausthal University of Technology are looking for ways to make this work more efficient.

Europe's largest auto company and the smallest technical university in Germany with barely 4,000 students have established the Institute for Applied Software Systems Engineering (IPSSE), a research group devoted to applied software development.

Powertrain development is part of the program for Volkswagen. The institute will initially focus on drivetrain software. No matter how perfect modern car engines may seem technically, an expert always sees room for improvement.

This applies to reductions in fuel consumption. An effective engine control unit can accomplish a great deal with precise control, regulation and monitoring.

The research group's projects are expected to save time and money in the development of drivetrain control software. Today it’s not uncommon for up to 100 engineers to work more than a year on the creation of an engine control unit with up to 200 connections.

Aside from the engine itself, it’s the most expensive part of the drivetrain, costing several hundred euros. "There are still truly enormous gains in efficiency possible," said Andreas Rausch, vice president for information management and infrastructure at TU Clausthal and head of the new institute.

In part, he is thinking in terms of improved processes and techniques for software test automation.

Science and practice

Volkswagen has emphasized the importance of the new research group with its first investment. The company will initially spend 5 million euros over five years on research and development projects at the institute.

It's one of the institution's largest industry-sponsored projects, and it's quite welcome at a time when public support for research and science continues to decline. "We are very much looking forward to a long-term cooperation with Europe's largest automaker," said Thomas Hanschke, president of TU Clausthal.

"This partnership is an outstanding example of the linkage between science and practice. At the same time, it pays homage to the renowned, industry-oriented education at TU Clausthal.”

The university is above all providing the necessary manpower. At least eight scientific staff and up to 15 student assistants will initially be doing research at IPSSE. It probably won't be hard to find them: More than 500 Clausthal students have information science in various combinations on their class schedules.

But the plans go further: An elite program is due to be launched in mid-2013, and the Institute could then have 35 staff and more than 40 students in 2018.

The research group is located at Clausthal-Zellerfeld and nearby Goslar, not one of the abundantly available cities with Volkswagen factories in the area.

That's a sign that it won't be dealing with the automaker’s everyday problems. The work instead will involve basic improvements in processes and methods over years of continuous research and development.

"We are not under any pressure. A fantastically high-functioning system has resulted between industry and research,” Rausch said.

Tangible benefits

For Volkswagen, the cooperation is not just a matter of gaining knowledge. It is looking for tangible market benefits.

"Hardware components and software must interact perfectly in the development of drivetrain innovations," said Stefanie Jauns-Seyfried, manager for function and software development in powertrain electronics at VW. "Our cooperation with TU Clausthal allows us to integrate scientific knowledge as quickly as possible into practice as a part of the software development process."

The strategic partnership between the university and Volkswagen has far more potential ”“ for example, in the training of future specialized staff.

"Volkswagen would like to nurture young, committed talent with a good technical foundation and enthusiasm for the automobile and show them early on how exciting it is to draw the connection between knowledge and practical applications," said Ulrich Hackenberg, development chief for the VW brand.

“This is the only way that we can continue to bring outstanding innovations to market."

As part of TU Clausthal, IPSSE also appeals to Volkswagen because it offers contacts with all the classic engineering disciplines. The automaker and the Upper Harz university have already cooperated successfully on many projects for years.

-By Gert Reiling