Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) has launched its autonomous driving mobility and transport (ADMT) test program in the United States.
Key features of Volkswagen’s autonomous driving test program in the US:
- The program is using 10 ID.Buzz AD electric microbuses are equipped with autonomous driving hardware and software developed by Mobileye.
- An onboard safety driver will supervise the vehicles during testing.
- Initial tests will be conducted in a geofenced area in downtown and east Austin before expanding to other parts of the city.
- VW is not aiming to collect millions of miles of test data in the US but will rely on its simulation system, which is also fed from data from a million passenger cars daily.
- Before the autonomous ride-hailing service begins in 2026, VW will conduct testing with a closed user group starting in 2024.
- VW’s self-driving endeavours involve multiple partnerships, including one with Argo AI, which ended last year. The company retained around 100 members from the Argo AI team, with expertise in fleet control apps, booking platforms, and safety conditions in the US.
- VW is not the only automaker testing autonomous vehicles in Austin. General Motors’ Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo also operate robotaxis in the city.
Here are some additional details about the ID. Buzz AD:
- It is a fully electric vehicle with a range of up to 300 miles.
- Can seat up to 8 passengers.
- Comes equipped with various sensors, including cameras, radar, and lidar, to help it navigate autonomously.
- The ID. Buzz AD is supervised by an onboard safety driver who can take control of the vehicle at any time.
The program involves the use of two Volkswagen ID. Buzz AD electric microbuses are equipped with autonomous driving hardware and software. These vehicles are already at Volkswagen’s test site in Austin, Texas, and an additional eight vehicles will join them for on-road testing in the coming weeks.
Initially, the tests will be conducted within a geofenced area in downtown and east Austin. Volkswagen’s ultimate goal is to provide zero-emissions autonomous ride-hailing services in the city by 2026—the ID. Buzz AD vehicles are also being tested in Europe, and the same vehicles will be used for testing in Austin. The program will involve onboard safety drivers supervising the test vehicles equipped with cameras, radar, and lidar sensors.
Argo AI Team
Volkswagen has established partnerships to support its self-driving efforts. Israel-based Mobileye, acquired by Intel in 2017, has developed the technology stack for the ID. Buzz AD. Volkswagen had a previous partnership with Argo AI, but it ended in the previous year.
Nevertheless, Volkswagen retained around 100 members from the Argo AI team, who bring expertise in fleet control apps, booking platforms, and safety conditions in the US. Volkswagen also acquired Argo AI’s Austin hub.
Mobileye and Volkswagen’s software arm, Cariad, are working closely to advance the development of self-driving ID. Buzz vans. According to Christian Senger, a member of the board of management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Mobileye’s software is considered more reliable and mature than the previous technology stack, making it better suited for navigating cities. Volkswagen already offers zero-emissions transport in Hamburg, Germany, through a partnership with ride-sharing service provider Moia.
In Germany, the ID. Buzz AD will commence driverless ride-sharing operations in Hamburg from 2025 onward. When asked about the number of testing miles Volkswagen aims to conduct in the US, Senger noted that their approach is not focused on accumulating millions of miles like some competitors.
Instead, they rely on a robust simulation system that leverages data from millions of passenger cars daily. Before the autonomous ride-hailing service launches in 2026, Volkswagen plans to conduct closed user group testing starting in 2024.
Pros of Volkswagen’s Autonomous Driving Test Program:
- Advancing Technology: The test program allows Volkswagen to refine and improve its autonomous driving technology, including hardware and software. This can contribute to the overall advancement of autonomous vehicle technology.
- Competition and Innovation: By entering the autonomous ride-hailing market in Austin, Volkswagen introduces competition and encourages innovation. This can lead to improved services, technology, and customer experiences.
- Zero-Emissions Transportation: Volkswagen’s goal of providing zero-emissions autonomous ride-hailing services aligns with sustainability objectives. Using electric microbuses can help reduce carbon emissions and promote environmentally friendly transportation options.
- Partnerships: Volkswagen has partnered with companies like Mobileye and Cariad to collaborate on autonomous driving technology. These partnerships bring together expertise from different domains, accelerating the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Cons of Volkswagen’s Autonomous Driving Test Program:
- Safety Concerns: Autonomous driving technology is still in its early stages, and there are concerns about the safety and reliability of self-driving vehicles. Any incidents or accidents during the test program could raise safety concerns among the public and regulatory authorities.
- Regulatory Challenges: The deployment of autonomous vehicles faces regulatory challenges, including legal frameworks and standards that must be established and complied with. Adhering to these regulations can be complex and time-consuming.
- Public Acceptance: Autonomous vehicles are a relatively new concept for many people, and public acceptance may vary. Some individuals may be sceptical or hesitant about using self-driving vehicles, which could affect the adoption and success of autonomous ride-hailing services.
- Technical Limitations: Autonomous driving technology still faces technical limitations, such as handling complex traffic scenarios, adverse weather conditions, and unexpected obstacles. Overcoming these challenges requires continuous development and testing.
- Ethical Considerations: Autonomous vehicles, such as decision-making algorithms in critical situations, raise ethical questions. Resolving these ethical dilemmas and ensuring that autonomous vehicles make morally sound choices remains a significant challenge.
Volkswagen’s autonomous driving test program in the US, focused on launching autonomous ride-hailing services in Austin by 2026, comes with both advantages and challenges. On the positive side, the program allows Volkswagen to advance its autonomous driving technology, foster competition and innovation, and promote zero-emissions transportation with electric microbuses. Partnerships with companies like Mobileye and Cariad bring expertise and resources to accelerate development.
However, there are potential obstacles to overcome. Safety concerns surrounding autonomous vehicles and regulatory challenges in establishing legal frameworks and standards must be addressed. Public acceptance of self-driving vehicles remains uncertain, and technical limitations must be overcome, including handling complex scenarios and adverse weather conditions. Ethical considerations regarding decision-making algorithms also present challenges.
While Volkswagen’s test program shows promise, the success of autonomous ride-hailing services depends on effectively addressing these challenges and demonstrating the safety, reliability, and public acceptance of self-driving technology. As the autonomous driving industry continues to evolve, it will be essential to prioritize safety, regulatory compliance, and ethical considerations to build trust and bring autonomous vehicles into mainstream transportation.