Volkswagen eyes test drives of Al-powered self-driving vans in Germany

By Ashika Rajan, Trainee Reporter
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VW Van
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The German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) has announced that it would begin testing its new autonomous vehicles in Germany this summer.

Argo Al, a US-based startup backed by Ford and VW has developed the hardware and software for the German automaker’s electric ID Buzz vans.

By 2025, the company aims to launch a commercial delivery and micro-transit service in Germany.

VW and Argo executives held a press conference this week to provide an update on their partnership, which was first revealed in 2019 as a continuation of VW’s “global alliance” with Ford. Although much of what they spoke about was already understood, it did include a more detailed look at the timeline for launching a revenue-generating service using VW’s vehicles and Argo’s autonomous technology.

Argo said that it will launch the fifth generation of its automated driving technology with the VW ID Buzz, the electric variant of the automaker’s iconic microbus, which it has been testing in the US with Ford for the last few years. The startup’s founder and CEO, Mr. Bryan Salesky, praised Argo and Volkswagen’s collaborative nature.

Argo and VW collaborated earlier this year to develop a prototype minivan using the German company’s MEB electric vehicle platform with Argo’s AV technology, including LIDAR sensors, radar, and cameras, within the body of a VW T6 Transporter.

Argo’s software also allows the vehicle to “see” its surroundings, prepare its next moves, and anticipate the movements of other vehicles and pedestrians on the road. This, combined with Argo’s sensor suite, enables automated driving at low and high speeds, according to Mr. Salesky.

VW plans to use the vans as part of a ride-sharing fleet operated by its subsidiary Moia. Since 2017 Moia has been running an electric vehicle fleet as part of its “ride-pooling” service in Hamburg, serving over 3 million customers.

The AV industry has been consolidating rapidly over the last year, with many companies being acquired or merged with others. It’s a mad scramble to keep businesses alive in the face of longer timelines and higher operating costs, with little hope of generating sales soon. Robotaxis, in particular, is thought to be farther away than other companies expect. VW and Argo both maintain their trust in their ability to meet the deadline.

Related: Not funny anymore: US opens probe into Volkswagen’s April fool’s prank


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