Volkswagen & Argo AI to Test the ID. BUZZ Electric Van in Germany This Summer for an Autonomous Ride-Hailing Service
Automaker Volkswagen will begin testing its first autonomous commercial vehicles this summer in a new partnership with Argo AI, the company announced on Wednesday. The automaker's Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles division will launch international trials of the upcoming ID. BUZZ electric van outfitted with self-driving technology developed by Argo AI, a company backed by both Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen.
The first self-driving prototypes based on the future Volkswagen ID. BUZZ production electric vehicles will begin testing in Munich, Germany, this summer. The self-driving ID BUZZ vans will be outfitted with lidar, radar and cameras by Argo AI to support Level 4 autonomous driving, which requires no human supervision.
"We believe Argo AI has the largest urban self-driving testing footprint, with operations in six cities in the United States," said Bryan Salesky, Founder and CEO, Argo AI. "We are excited to begin testing our self-driving system on European roads later this year."
Earlier this year, Argo AI integrated its self-driving system with a Volkswagen vehicle prototype to begin testing in Germany.
Volkswagen's ride-hailing provider MOIA will be the first to deploy the self-driving ID BUZZ vans in Germany by 2025 as part of a commercial transportation service. MOIA is the largest ride-sharing provider in Hamburg, Germany, and currently employs roughly 1,200 people.
"Our aim with the self-driving version of the ID. BUZZ is to facilitate commercial deployment of transport and delivery services starting in 2025," said Christian Senger, divisional director at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. "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."
While most of the auto industry has focused on self-driving passenger vehicles for the past several years, there has been a shift towards developing long haul autonomous trucks for highways as well as multi-passenger autonomous vehicles that can be utilized in commercial ride-hailing services or built for last-mile delivery services.
One example is the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle which was designed for a commercial transportation service. The Origin was built in a partnership between General Motors, Honda and GM's autonomous driving division Cruise. Like Volkswagen, Cruise and GM also plan to launch a commercial ride-hailing service in San Francisco using the self-driving Origin shuttles.
The ID BUZZ electric van will launch in the U.S. in 2023.
Ford Motor Co invested $1 billion in Argo in Feb 2017 to jumpstart its own autonomous driving development, back when the startup was a little-known Pittsburgh-based robotics company. At the time, Argo CEO Brain Salesky stressed that Ford was not acquiring his company, rather the investment will allow it to continue to operate as an independent company.
In June 2020, Volkswagen closed on its $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI. As part of the agreement, Argo AI is developing self-driving technology for both automakers. Ford and Volkswagen announced in 2019 that they will work together to develop electric and self-driving cars.
Argo AI is considered to be one of the leading developers of AI-based autonomous driving technology, along with rivals Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, GM-backed Cruise and Toyota-backed Aurora.
Last week, Argo AI announced it developed a new, advanced lidar sensor for self-driving vehicles called "Argo Lidar." The new lidar sensor is referred to as "Geiger-mode" sensing. Geiger-mode lidar has the ability to detect a single photon of light, which Argo AI says is key to sensing dark objects with low reflectivity, such as a black car in pitch darkness up to 400 meters away.
The Argo Lidar offers ultra-high resolution perception that provides the photorealistic imaging required to identify even small objects for safe operation of autonomous vehicles in busy urban areas and crowded city streets, the company said.
"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," said MOIAS's 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."
In the U.S., Argo AI is currently testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Miami, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California.
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