Volkswagen aims to make autonomous driving market ready
Volkswagen AG announced the foundation of Volkswagen Autonomy GmbH (VWAT GmbH) with headquarters in Munich and Wolfsburg. Another subsidiary in Silicon Valley will follow in 2020. A further subsidiary is planned in China in 2021.
As a center of excellence for autonomous driving from Level 4, the goal of VWAT is to build up knowledge within the group and bring a self-driving system (SDS) to market maturity. The company will be managed by Alexander Hitzinger, Senior Vice President for Autonomous Driving in the Volkswagen Group and member of the Volkswagen Brand Board of Management responsible for technical development at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV). VWCV in Hanover is the leading brand within the group for autonomous driving, mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), and transport-as-a-service (TaaS).
Mobility solutions for people and goods in urban areas will be the first application case for the SDS from Volkswagen Autonomy. In July, the Volkswagen Group announced closer cooperation in the field of autonomous driving with Ford which, subject to official approvals, includes a stake in Argo AI, a company that specializes in software development for autonomous driving. Argo AI and VWAT will work together to develop self-driving system (SDS). In the development of the SDS, VWAT will focus on systems engineering and industrialization. The aim is to establish an SDS as a standard module for all group brands in future.
"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," said 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 commercializing autonomous driving at a large scale around the middle of the next decade."
The first application cases are planned in the commercial sector. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will develop and build special purpose vehicles (SPV) such as robo taxis and robo vans. In a co-creation approach together with VWCV as a customer, VWAT will develop the respective systems. This will make the brand for light commercial vehicles the first user of the SDS from Volkswagen Autonomy.
By the end of the year, resources from Volkswagen Group research allocated to autonomous driving will be transferred to VWAT GmbH. In 2020 and 2021 two further companies will be founded in Silicon Valley and in China, respectively, in addition to the company in Germany. More than half of the staff will be employed in Munich and Wolfsburg. Munich was chosen as a further site in Germany, as the group company Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH (AID) is already headquartered there. At the same time, the site will become the European headquarters of Argo AI. Silicon Valley was selected as a further site due to its proximity to Argo AI and to the talent pool for autonomous driving. In addition, the legislation offers favorable conditions for the further development of the SDS. An SDS development site in China is needed to comply with local legal requirements.
"Autonomous driving presents the entire industry with major challenges: high development costs, extremely high demands on sensor technology, plus a lack of regulatory systems and heterogeneous regional standards," said Hitzinger. "Our goal is to build an agile, high-performance development team with the know-how to realize a self-driving system ready to market."
In addition to operational work on the development, verification, and validation of the systems, VWAT will control and be responsible for all activities related to autonomous driving from Level 4 within the Volkswagen Group.