The duel

Man verses machine – local knowledge verses hi-tech navigation.

The local knowledge of an experienced taxi driver, verses the state-of-the-art navigation of the Audi A8. Who has the inside line?

25 October, 2019

To earn his taxi license, Franz learnt the vast majority of Munich’s streets by heart

It’s 3pm at a service station on Leopoldstraße in Munich. It’s a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, and Franz Daumer is sipping a cup of coffee. He has a long night behind him and is facing another tonight, so this probably won’t be his last coffee. Franz is a taxi driver and works permanent night shift. The Munich man has been sitting at the wheel of his car, pulling all-nighters for the past 14 years. But he’s not looking for sympathy. He’s one of the few people who have truly found their calling. 

“If this job didn’t exist, I would have had to invent it,” says Franz, laughing. “I love my job. I can choose my own hours and I really like being on the road at night because the party people are so colourful and far more relaxed.”

Franz has covered more than 140,000 kilometres with his taxi in the space of just one-and-a-half years. Anyone who spends that much time in a vehicle develops a special relationship with it. 

In his job, Franz can’t allow himself to be disoriented. To earn his taxi license, he learnt the vast majority of Munich’s streets by heart. He knows every square, every park and every promenade. He’s a master at dodging traffic jams. His gut feel and his experience are his best navigation system. When asked how he fancies his chances in a race against the world’s most state-of-the-art navigation system, he nods confidently and says: 

“I know what I know. Challenge accepted.”

Around 24 hours later at Audi’s Technical Development complex in Ingolstadt, Guido Müller is filled with anticipation. Today, he’s going to drive against taxi legend Franz Daumer in a race from the Schlossmuseum in Ismaning to the Residenztheater in downtown Munich. Guido is Project Leader for the HERE navigation system in the Audi A8. 

Who will be faster? Taxi driver Franz with his experience or the navigation system Guido and his colleagues have been working on for the past four years? 

Even on our way to the vehicle, we can already see what the new system can do. Guido enters the address into the myAudi app on his smartphone. The app begins navigating and first guides us to the vehicle. As soon as Guido steps inside, the Audi A8 automatically begins route guidance to the previously entered destination. 

“We want this end-to-end navigation to offer the customer a holistic solution that them him from his door to his vehicle and then to his final destination,” explains Guido. 

As we travel on the A9 heading for Munich, Guido explains the navigation system’s other high- lights. A tighter corner emerges in front of us and the Audi A8 automatically lowers the speed. “This function is called predictive ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control). The navigation delivers data to the system based on the route currently being driven. It knows in advance what bends lie ahead and at which speed I can take them,” says Guido. “This function is also an important element of autonomous driving.”

Guido is Project Leader for the HERE navigation system in the Audi A8

The further development of autonomous driving is one of the reasons for Audi and other manufacturers acquiring HERE in 2015 from Nokia

The further development of autonomous driving is one of the reasons for Audi acquiring HERE in 2015 from Nokia, together with other German auto-makers. “What we see in HERE is far more than purely a guidance experience to get from A to B,” he says. “HERE’s maps are extremely accurate down to the last 10cm. We’ll need this kind of precision later when Audi wants to put autonomous driving into series production.” 

The accurate map material is one of HERE’s great strengths. The new system offers precise traffic information from geodata service, TomTom, and comprehensive search functionality from Google.

Shortly before our arrival at the Schlossmuseum in Ismaning, a notice appears on the navigation screen ask ing if we need a parking space. “This notice appears as soon as you approach your destination. If the driver confirms, the software searches for a parking space and directs the driver there,” explains Guido. 

But today no parking space is required, just our opponent for the day. He’s already waiting at the side of the road, leaning casually on his taxi. After a short greeting, Franz gets back into his taxi, and they’re off. Both men accelerate sharply and head into the beginnings of the evening rush hour.

Guido steers the Audi A8 through the heavy traffic – the HERE navigation guiding him deftly through the busy roads. Franz is right in front of us. He had a better start, and we drive behind him for a while before Franz suddenly takes a right turn. The HERE navigation tells us to drive on. Is Franz perhaps aware of a traffic jam unknown to the navigation system? Guido doesn’t let it bother him and sticks to his course. 

But the succession of red lights keeps slowing us down. Seconds become eternities. Maybe Franz is intentionally avoiding this flood of stoplights and is slinking along back roads. Is the taxi going to beat us? 

Guido picks up the tempo after every red light. But the traffic is getting heavier and sometimes we come to a complete standstill. The finish line is still around 1.5 kilometres away. As we head along Maximilianstraße towards our destination, Guido uses a gap in the traffic to make up some time. We arrive at the finish line after 15 kilometres. 

Franz and Guido review the race results. Guido asks why he turned off. “The traffic on the Oberföhringer is usually heavy at that time and I wanted to avoid the congestion. But unfortunately, I drove into a construction site and lost time,” responds Franz. In Munich, roadworks can pop up from nowhere overnight. 

Nevertheless, it was a very close race, just that the HERE navigation was able to score a narrow victory this time. Franz takes it like a sportsman and gives Guido a high five before climbing back into his cab. It’s the start of his shift.

The HERE navigation tells us to drive on. Is Franz perhaps aware of a traffic jam unknown to the navigation system?