Volkswagen AG today announced the foundation of Volkswagen Autonomy GmbH (VWAT GmbH,) a centre of excellence for autonomous driving from Level 4 with headquarters in Munich and Wolfsburg.
The car maker will form another subsidiary in Silicon Valley in 2020, and a further one is planned in China in 2021.
VWAT will serve to build up know-how within the Volkswagen 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 brand within the VW 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 GmbH. 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 specialised in the software development for autonomous driving. ARGO AI and VWAT will work together on the realization of the self-driving system (SDS). In the development of the SDS VWAT will put a strong focus on systems engineering and industrialisation. The aim is to establish an SDS as a standard module for all Group brands in future.
The first application cases are planned in the commercial sector. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles as the leading brand for Autonomous Driving, MaaS, and TaaS in the Group 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 leading talent pool for autonomous driving. Furthermore, the legislation offers favourable conditions for the further development of the SDS. An SDS development site in China is needed to comply with local legal requirements. China has a particularly important role as the largest market of the Volkswagen Group and on account of the high traffic complexity.
Most importantly, the subject of safety has top priority from Level 4 onwards. Driving a car today is already very safe thanks to numerous assistance and safety systems in modern vehicles: a human driver causes a fatal accident every 600 million kilometres on average. VW says that self-driving systems will drastically reduce accident numbers.
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.