With remarks from company leaders, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and technology evangelist Guy Kawasaki, Daimler AG’s fourth innovation hub, Lab1886, has officially opened in Atlanta. Design veteran Paul Lafata has moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles to lead the center, which is the first of its kind in the U.S.
During the opening ceremony, Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, showed off videos and demos of projects that have come out of its other Lab1886 units — two in Germany and one in Beijing. These include an automated driving pilot, a mobile platform for motorsports, and the volocopter, a fully-electric, autonomous flying vehicle that saw its first test flight in 2017.
At the opening, Governor Deal cited the importance of this move as a strong indicator for others in the automobile industry to see Georgia as a place for innovation. Daimler executives echoed that enthusiasm.
“We globally bounce ideas, exchange knowledge, exchange learnings, and exchange people to help continue developing ideas,” explained Susanne Hahn, the global head of Lab1886. She said that Daimler’s mission for the innovation units are to “safeguard a sustainable and profitable future,” for the company.
Lab1886 focuses on addressing the mega-trends driving the future of transportation — things like urbanization, globalization and digitization — by exploring new transportation technologies. Their framework revolves around four pillars: connected, autonomous, sharing and services, and electric; and the process for turning new ideas into reality goes through three stages: idea, incubation and commercialization.
Often, the employee who comes up with the original idea will take charge of any products or spinoff companies that emerge should the idea go all the way to the commercialization phase. For example, the volocopter is its own subsidiary of Daimler.
The location of Lab1886 in Atlanta will thus benefit from its proximity to Mercedes-Benz’s new U.S. headquarters north of the city. However, Hahn said there were many other reasons for choosing Atlanta, citing the city’s tech talent, startup ecosystem and strong corporate players.
“Atlanta has a growing startup ecosystem with a pioneering spirit,” Hahn said. Their office at Buckhead’s WeWork Terminus will put Lab1886 employees within walking distance of Atlanta Tech Village, the city’s largest startup hub.
The team leading Lab1886 is just as international as its parent company. Along with 20-year UX design leader Lafata, who was most recently with BCG Digital Ventures, Lab1886 has brought on executives from China and Germany.
The team is currently under a dozen, but plans to be at full capacity with 25 employees by year-end. Roles for product managers, designers and more are open now.
“We’re looking very much forward to the next unicorn here in Atlanta — and maybe it’s a flying one,” said Hahn to close out her remarks.