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A passenger in the car can be a double-edged sword: They can help the driver look up route information, or bring a second pair of eyes to the search for a parking space. But they can also distract the driver from traffic or confuse them with wrong information. A far more attractive passenger would resemble K.I.T.T., the onboard talking computer from the TV series Knight Rider . It always had the solution for every challenge and stood by David Hasselhoff, AKA Michael Knight, whenever he needed it. Now reality has long overtaken what was still science fiction in the 1980s. Smart, voice-controlled assistance systems are already found in mid-range vehicles, and in many places self-driving cars are past the trial phase and already in use.

Sensors generate a digital representation of the race in real time

Formula 1 carmakers are now taking things a step further: For the McLaren stable, having the best drivers and state-of-the-art engineering is no longer enough to win races. Now they are also making use of artificial intelligence . A wide array of sensors built into the Formula 1 cars of this British racing team send the huge amount of data they collect straight to a mainframe computer at McLaren's headquarters in Woking. There the information is used to create a digital representation of the real race car – a digital twin – that runs the racecourse virtually. The computer uses other data besides that sent by the sensors – weather, temperature, soil conditions – so the model can conduct predictive analyses and support the real driver with information. The result is much better than a nervous passenger – an intelligent system that can help drivers and race cars perform better in real time.

Formula 1 as a model for series manufacturing

Will K.I.T.T. soon become a reality? It's not that improbable. Formula 1 often serves as a test laboratory for the automotive sector. Many manufacturers try out new technical vehicle components on the racecourse that could have potential for series production. "Because what proves itself under these extreme conditions will probably work well in regular use," says Albert Biermann , Development Director for BMW M, the sportscar brand for the Munich-based automobile firms.

Thomas Weber, Chief Development Officer for Daimler Benz, adds : "Motorsports are the fastest test lab where all components and complete systems can be subjected to the greatest imaginable pressures." And the goals pursued are the same for Formula 1 cars and series models: "High-performance powerpacks with few cylinders, smaller engine displacement, turbo compression and direct fuel injection, to name just a few examples. And also hybridization! These are all technologies that we need to massively apply in series production."

Digital twins open up new possibilities

For General Electric (Hall 12, Stand D50), the McLaren solution supplier, the digital twin concept also represents a decisive step towards Industry 4.0. "The possibilities are huge," says Colin Parris, CEO of GE Software Research. "Digital twins allow us to predict wear and damage to vehicles with high precision. We can use them to optimize energy consumption and reduce downtimes to a minimum. And this information not only helps our customers, it makes new business models possible."

In the future, everything will be networked: suppliers, producers and customers. The focus now must be put on building a strong network between machine builders, electrical engineers and IT. Digital Factory, the international trade fair for integrated processes and IT solutions, will open its doors at HANNOVER MESSE with a broad spectrum of forums, congresses and special events.