Illustrations showing the VW ID. Buzz equipped with self-driving hardware have been flying around the internet for some months, but this week the company released more details about its plans to tap the mobility as a service market with that particular vehicle.
Volkswagen has made a significant investment in Argo.AI, a US-based company created to build autonomous driving systems and bring them to market. Ford is also a backer and of course Volkswagen and Ford also have a strategic alliance that will see Ford introducing one or more electric cars that are based on Volkswagen’s MEB EV platform.
According to EV Obsession, the first self-driving prototypes based on the future Volkswagen ID. Buzz will begin testing in Munich, this summer. “Our aim with the self-driving version of the ID. Buzz is to facilitate commercial deployment of transport and delivery services starting in 2025,” says Christian Senger, director of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles division. “In select cities, customers will be able to have a self-driving vehicle take them to their destination. The delivery of goods and packages will also be made much easier through our autonomous driving service.”
A certain company that started building electric cars in Fremont, California over a decade ago is also pushing self-driving technology forward aggressively. The difference is, the hardware for those cars is cleverly incorporated into the exterior of its cars in a way that is nearly invisible to the casual observer. But doing so means not using Lidar, a technology that is similar to radar in that is uses reflected light waves to detect objects ahead.
The head of that California company is philosophically opposed to using Lidar partly because he says it does not work well in fog, rain, and sleet and partly because he doesn’t want to crap up the appearance of the cars his company manufactures with ugly dome like roof adornments that look like they came straight from the set of Lost In Space. Not only that, Lidar today is expensive and would add considerably to the price of new vehicles that use it. Volkswagen has no similar qualms about rooftop appendages, as its self driving vehicles will be intended more for commercial use as robotaxis than private passenger cars.
Meet Argo Lidar
“We believe Argo AI has the largest urban self-driving testing footprint, with operations in six cities in the United States,” says Bryan Salesky, CEO of Argo AI. “We are excited to begin testing our self-driving system on European roads later this year, building on the initial work we’re doing now at a new test track we established next to the Munich airport.”
The Argo.AI system will use a combination of Lidar, radar, and cameras to guide a vehicle safely along its intended path. Argo.AI has recently taken the wraps off its new lidar sensor called simply Argo Lidar, which allows it to see objects up to 400 meters away. It is so sensitive, it can detect a single photon, which is key to detecting objects with low reflectivity. “This technology will be integrated in the self-driving system of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ autonomous driving vehicles,” Salesky says.
MOIA, the ride-sharing service that is also a division of Volkswagen Group, is scheduled to begin using ID. Buzz vehicles equipped with Argo.AI self-driving systems in 2025. MOIA is currently the largest ride-sharing provider in Hamburg, Germany and employs 1,200 people.
“MOIA has extensive experience in the field of mobility services and fleet management. Within a very short time, we have set up Europe’s largest, all-electric ride pooling service and provided mobility to millions of passengers,” says MOIA managing director Robert Henrich. “We will bring this expertise to the cooperation with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and Argo AI. Hamburg will be the first city to offer an autonomous ride pooling service with an ID. Buzz.”
ID. Buzz Coming Soon
The ID. Buzz is scheduled to go into production at the commercial vehicles factory in Hanover, Germany in late 2022. First deliveries to customers are expected to begin in early 2023. It is fair to say the battery electric ID.Buzz is one of the most eagerly anticipated new vehicles in the world. It is basically just a box on wheels, but it has an emotional connection to the much loved VW Microbus of the 60s and 70s, which became a symbol of the Woodstock Generation before its members all sold out to become lawyers and investment bankers. Emotion sells cars and Volkswagen sincerely hopes the magic of the original Microbus transfers to the ID. Buzz in a big way.
Don’t expect to be able to buy one that is capable of Level 4 autonomous driving for your personal use, but also don’t be surprised to see one traversing the streets of your favorite city that has the Lidar package on the roof and the logo of a local ride-hailing service on its flanks either. “We transport success, freedom, and future,” is the motto of the Volkswagen commercial vehicles division. Those words should apply quite nicely to the ID. Buzz, with or without self-driving technology.