Today was a good day, and do you want to know why? It was the last day of getting up super early! I mean…there are other reasons…but that one sure is awesome, because I am insanely exhausted. Today was also the last day of company visits. We boarded the bus at 7 AM and were off to Mindelheim, a town southwest of Augsburg, to visit Grob-Werke.
Grob-Werke is a very, very interesting company. Primarily, it is a family-owned company that has been passed down the past few generations. Not many big companies nowadays can say that. Additionally, they are almost entirely self-sufficient and manufacture about 80% of the machines they use to produce their parts. This puts them at an interesting position in the automotive supply chain. While they still source raw materials from other companies in order to manufacture their car parts, they would not be as affected by disruptions in the supply chain due to the fact that they create their own parts. Therefore, they hold more market power than a lot of their competitors and can produce their parts at lower costs, giving them a comparative advantage. During our visit, the Grob professional gave us a first presentation in which he outlined all of the aforementioned information. After that, we toured their massive plant. When I say massive, I mean massive. There were probably 10 different large buildings that were on their campus, and I think we walked through about 5. On this tour, the Grob worker showed us all of the machines that they produce themselves and a few projects that were made to demonstrate what their machines could do, including a metal basketball hoop and net and a panther to represent Augsburg’s hockey team. While all of these details were incredibly fascinating, I think the aspect of Grob that pulled me in the most was the professional who spent the day with us. He was very kind and hilarious, which makes all the difference when you have been getting less than 5 hours of sleep every night for the past week.
After Grob-Werke, we ventured back to the University of Augsburg and listened to two presentations, one on e-mobility and one on autonomous driving. The e-mobility talk was interesting, but I have to say, I was very engaged in the latter. The talk was given by a retired man who worked at BMW in their autonomous driving department. He detailed all of the aspects and mechanisms needed for autonomous driving, the steps of autonomy, and the legal and ethical problems it imposes. Before the talk, I had knowledge of the first two topics, but I wasn’t aware of the last. The problems ensue when thinking about what would happen if a fully autonomous vehicle faced a pedestrian obstacle with not enough time to brake and no clear escape path. The presenter told us that, when he was still working at BMW around 5 years ago, the standard was that the car would just decide to brake as fast as it could and continue on in the same direction, as it is a violation of human rights to compare the value of lives. Such a topic is so fascinating because it is an ethics problem, and as with all ethics problems, who can say what the right answer is?
This week was a very, very long one, but these two talks marked the end of it. After them, I stayed behind to ask my professor a question and then took the streetcar by myself back to the hotel for the first time! For dinner, most of the group ate at a delicious Italian restaurant, where I got the spicy salami pizza. We also got gelato, and mine was Nutella flavored! As if I couldn’t love Germany more!