Nio opens ‘innovation centre’ in Berlin

The Chinese electric car manufacturer Nio has opened a 1,500 square metre innovation centre in Berlin. As a European technology hub, the location in the German capital is to contribute to the development of new technologies and applications. We asked around on-site.

The new Amazon Tower is just around the corner, as is the RAW site and its clubs popular with expats. Rotherstraße in Berlin Friedrichshain, where Nio’s new Innovation Centre is housed in an old brick building, is a perfect fit for the “smart vehicle” that is constantly talked about at the opening ceremony. “With our new Berlin location, NIO will attract world-class software developers and engineers for the future of user-experience defined vehicles,” explained Nio European CEO Hui Zhang in his short speech.

In future, the developers in Berlin will be responsible for localising global applications and testing and validating them in Europe. Five teams will work in the new hub, including Digital Systems, Digital Development, Digital Cockpit, Autonomous Driving and Nio Power. The latter unit is the charging infrastructure team and the battery swap stations. Thus, Nio Power’s European infrastructure will also have its research and development focus at the Berlin Innovation Centre. And the squad will soon deliver the new “Smart Charging” package to the vehicles – of course via Firmware-Over-The-Air-Update (FOTA), as Benjamin Steinmetz proudly announces. The Product Experience Director Europe also announces new functions such as price-optimised charging.

Now that Nio already has a design centre in Munich, concrete development work is also taking place in Europe – after Asia and North America, three continents are now involved in the global Nio network. Nio currently employs more than 10,000 people worldwide in research and development – around 6,000 of them specialise in software development. In Berlin, Nio is officially welcomed by Michael Biel. The state secretary in the Senate Department for Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry dutifully thanks Nio for its “commitment” to Berlin. And says: “We are in the ramp-up phase of electromobility.” All forces must be combined, including the Chinese.

Nio claims to have carried out more than 80 FOTA updates in the past five years, adding more than 450 new functions and more than 600 function updates. The manufacturer distinguishes the FOTA update from the SOTA, the “software-over-the-air”. FOTA updates can also improve functions at system level, for example, performance, vehicle control systems, as well as driving comfort and driver assistance systems. This is made possible by a “domain architecture” in Nio’s vehicles, as Hui Zhang describes it. SOTA updates, on the other hand, are for example navigation updates or improved graphics. For the future, Nio announced that it will probably offer a SOTA update once a month in Europe, and the firmware will be updated once a quarter via a FOTA update. Zhang compares the process to the growth of trees in a forest: everything happens organically and in a network.

As an example of a FOTA update, Nio cites the “smart charging” mentioned at the beginning of this article, which is intended to make it easier for users to “navigate through the dynamic European electricity tariffs”. In doing so, the vehicle accesses the cheapest electricity tariffs in near real time and offers the user a cost-optimised charging strategy. Nio promises that users can use it to optimise “up to 50 per cent” of their electricity costs. One example of a SOTA update is the upcoming integration of video-on-demand services: ScreenHits TV, a British company offering a smart TV interface that gives Nio users access to a vast range of video content, including live TV and popular streaming services in 59 countries and 30 different languages. And: via the ‘Nomi Feedback’ function, users can send feedback to the developers with a voice recording.

At the opening of the Nio Innovation Centre in Berlin, there is one detail that the company is particularly proud of: “In all these years, Nio has never had to recall a car for software reasons,” says European head Zhang. The new development centre in Berlin should help to keep it that way.

With reporting by Peter Schwierz, Germany.


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