Sebastian Krass. After unveiling an electric car last year, students and staff at a Munich university are now developing it for production.
Last autumn, the International Motor Show in Frankfurt provided a big moment for the Technical University Munich (TUM). While companies presented their new achievements, TUM showed a prototype of its Mute, an electric car fully developed at the university. Two hundred staff and students from 21 departments had been involved in everything from the battery drive and body, to the design and market analysis. At the show, developers of large corporations inspected the car closely, and were impressed.
Wolfgang Herrmann, president of TUM, likes to talk about the electric car, as it not only illustrates the capability of his university and its engagement with the real world of work, but demonstrates a crucial link between research, industry and society's challenges. TUM is one of the most dynamic universities in Germany. Since 2000, it has increased its student body from 19,500 to 31,000 and the number of professors has risen from 394 to 475.
It was designed to be an "entrepreneurial university" and arranges its subject around a "four-leaf clover" of disciplines: natural and biological sciences, engineering and medicine (plus ancillary areas such as economics and teacher training). It has partnered with universities in Lausanne, Copenhagen and Eindhoven, and has eyes on Asia, opening a branch in Singapore. At the Munich headquarters there is the Chinese vice-president, Liqiu Meng, who is responsible for international alliance.
But TUM has a "historical deficit", says Herrmann: it lacks the humanities/arts subjects, such as those at the neighbouring Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich which also has elite status. Herrmann wants to counter this weakness by establishing the Munich Centre for Technology in Society. This will consist of seven professors who will analyse the consequences of technology on society. "The fact that we train well within the technical subjects is to be expected," says Herrmann. "But we need to broaden the horizons of our students beyond that." He wants to establish professorships in sociology of science and bioethics, and has already appointed a chair for business ethics.
In May, the car industry announced that it would buy into the Mute. The university researchers will develop it for production together with BMW, Daimler-Benz and the tyre manufacturer Continental as well as a dozen other companies. The federal ministry for research work is funding the project in the next 30 months with a total of €10.8m (£8.6m).