VW ID.Buzz microbus is going autonomous
Save the date, smartphone owners. By 2025, you may be hailing your first fully autonomous ride in an ID.Buzz microbus. VW recently announced that it’s targeting 2025 as a launch date for these self-driving taxis, and, together with Argo AI, it’s developing a fleet of ID.Buzzes with Level 4 autonomous capability.
Carsten Intra, CEO of VW’s Commercial Vehicles, explained why his team is leading this charge: “… we are setting the course for the future of mobility. Autonomous, electric driving will make an important contribution to urban mobility and road safety. Our vehicles are the logical first choice to apply such systems to.”
Field trials in Germany are set to begin this year, and that means a version of the future ID.Buzz will be hitting the streets to test out its computerized nervous system, built by Argo AI. The American autonomous driving tech company is spearheaded by Silicon Valley veterans Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander and backed by two automotive titans: Ford, as of 2017, and VW, just this past year. To get in on Argo’s tech, VW slapped down over $1 billion USD as an initial investment and contributed its subsidiary program AID (Autonomous Intelligent Driving) which essentially pursues the same systems as Argo.
Achieving Level 4 autonomy for public roadways will be no easy feat. (For perspective, your Super-Cruise-equipped Tahoe can operate at Level 2.) SAE defines Level 4 autonomy as High Automation, in which “the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain circumstances,” though “the driver may have the option to control the vehicle.” This sort of high-grade autonomy earns its name, although the vehicles are only able to operate themselves thanks to geofencing, a set of limits hardwired into its driving brain. An autonomous ID.Buzz taxi equipped with Argo AI’s SDS, or Self Driving System, would rely on a pre-mapped scan of its entire bounded range and speeds would be largely restricted.
Other frontrunners in the Level 4 realm today include tech-based upstarts like Waymo, Navya, and Magna. Volvo has already experimented with Level 4 autonomous trucking in Japan. Expect Level 4 testing to become more publicly common in the coming years.
VW was keen to specify that this program is separated from, but inspired by, its prevailing mobility subsidiary MOIA, which operates in the German ride-pooling space as well.
The ID.Buzz—autonomous varieties and “regular” ones, as well—will be built on VW’s modular electric platform (the German acronym is MEB), intended to undergird the brand’s entire ID line (which includes the ID.4 and the ID.3). By reconfiguring the battery housing, engineers can shrink the platform for a compact runabout like the ID.3 or stretch it for a people-hauler like the ID.Buzz.
There’s no telling how much these fully-realized commercial-grade autonomous versions will resemble the hotly anticipated ID.Buzz concepts. We hope both retain plenty of Bulli styling that will jive with passionate VW enthusiasts by honoring the legendary microbuses of yesteryear.
If the graphics in this most recent announcement are any indication, however, two-tone will be too cool for commercial business. And let’s just hope future autonomous Buzzes have the smarts to avoid any fresh potholes rollin’ on dubs like those.