A new company, exclusively dedicated to the development of autonomous driving, has been set up. The goal of Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT) is to make the technology market-ready. First tests to be carried out on commercial vehicles.
Over the next few years, autonomous driving will become an important asset for mobility. The technology already exists and can be found on the most advanced production cars in the form of driving assistance systems.
However, it is making huge leaps towards its launch on the market in a fully autonomous form. Currently the use of Level 2 devices is allowed (there are five levels overall). Some Volkswagen Group models are already equipped with Level 3 systems, waiting for the suitable legal framework in order to use them widely â€“ not only on specific experimental road sections in some European countries.
Autonomous driving is not just important in the terms of personal mobility, or Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). It will also play an important role in the transport of goods - the concept of Transport-as-a-Service (TaaS) as it is known. For what concerns services and logistics, these two complementary areas open the door to new opportunities. The first application cases are planned in the commercial sector.
Within the Volkswagen Group, the commercial vehicles will be pioneering the use of autonomous driving on the market. The first driverless vehicles to operate on the city streets throughout the world (likely to be around the middle of the next decade) could be robo taxis and robo vans, capable of transporting passengers or goods to their destination safely and without the limitations imposed by working hours.
Volkswagen Autonomy launches
Volkswagen Group is fully committed to developing its own Self Driving System (SDS). To this end, it has set up Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT), a company headquartered in Munich and Wolfsburg with further locations to be added in the United States and China by 2021.
Specialists from Volkswagen Group Research will come together in these first centres of excellence focusing on autonomous driving from Level 4, the stage where a vehicle is capable of taking complete control within a well-defined use case. Their mission is to improve this technology and make it market-ready and, at the same time, build a solid knowledge base which can be used within the entire Group.Â
Munich is already home to another Group company, Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), and will also be the European headquarters of ARGO AI, a company specialized in the development of software for autonomous driving which the Group acquired a stake in as part of its cooperation with Ford. The first of the other two development centres will be located in Silicon Valley in 2020, close to ARGO AI.
The area is home to the worldâ€™s leading talent pool in this field and the legislation offers favourable conditions for developing the technology. The second will be opened in China, a country that plays an important and strategic role, both as Volkswagen Groupâ€™s largest market and for the highly complex challenges of its traffic.
The Self Driving System
Volkswagen Autonomy will be led by Alexander Hitzinger, Senior Vice President for autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group and Member of the Brand Board of Management responsible for Technical Development at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, the leading brand within the Group for this area of business. The company will work on a Self Driving System (SDS) and develop it with a strong focus on systems engineering and industrialisation. The SDS will be used in the future as a standard module by all Volkswagen Group brands.
The importance of safety
Safety is the area where autonomous driving could make a particularly crucial contribution. Despite the many assistance and safety systems which modern vehicles are equipped with, human drivers cause a fatal accident every 600 million kilometres, on average. SDS will further drastically reduce accident numbers, but the system must be extremely robust and reliable for this: not only is this difficult to achieve; the verification is also a huge challenge.Â
The automotive sector and hi-tech
"We want to establish Volkswagen Autonomy as a global technology company where we bundle expertise from the automotive and technology industries, combining the agility and creativity of a high-performance culture with process orientation and scalability,â€? says Alexander Hitzinger.
"We will continue to use synergies across all Group brands to reduce the cost of self-driving vehicles, high-performance computers, and sensors. We plan to start commercialising autonomous driving at a large scale around the middle of the next decade."