Fully automated, connected, driverless – for almost a century, mankind has been dreaming of an autonomous car. The Volkswagen Group wants to turn this vision into reality and is working with engineers, designers and developers to make a decisive contribution to the development of this new technology. An example, Hamburg: Since March 2019, a team from Volkswagen Group Innovation has been using a test route with five converted e-Golf1 cars in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg.
Volkswagen supports Hamburg in the preparation of the ITS World Congress 2021
Volkswagen has a particularly close partnership with Hamburg. Thus, the Volkswagen Group also supports the Hanseatic city in the preparation of the ITS World Congress 2021. More than 400 companies from all over the world will present the latest trends and innovations for the digitalisation of mobility and logistics at the largest expert congress for intelligent traffic and transport systems (ITS) from 11 to 15 October 2021.
Under the leadership of Hamburg's First Mayor Dr. Peter Tschentscher and Jürgen Rittersberger, Head of the General Secretariat and Group Strategy of Volkswagen AG, high-ranking industry and association representatives met for the first time on 11 November at the Hamburg Representation in Berlin to form a host committee. The committee, which was also attended by Enak Ferlemann, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, acts as a board of trustees and includes high-ranking representatives from the automotive, aviation and logistics industries, public transport and research.
"The ITS World Congress 2021 in Hamburg is a good opportunity to show the world that Germany has innovative solutions in the field of transport and mobility. The Volkswagen Group is leading the way here and has therefore provided considerable support for the application to host the ITS World Congress in Hamburg right from the start. In the Host Committee, we now want to make an active contribution to a successful congress," said Rittersberger.
Autonomous driving – on the way to market maturity
In several test phases, each lasting approximately one week, the approximately three-kilometer-long section in the vicinity of the convention center is driven several times a day. Various sensors on the roof, in the wheel arches and in the front and rear areas, analyze the surroundings with eleven lasers, seven radars, 14 cameras and ultrasound. Each trunk contains the computing power of 15 laptops that exchange up to five gigabytes of data per minute.
“We are working on a market-ready, self-driven system that we want to commercialize as early as the middle of the next decade”
The Volkswagen Group has been testing autonomous driving since the early 2000s
The “Mission Full Autonomy”, as Hitzinger also calls it, was launched by the Volkswagen Group at the beginning of the 2000s in the USA. As part of the DARPA Racing Challenge, which was launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Volkswagen drove autonomously through the Mojave Desert in Nevada at the time. In 2017, SEDRIC, short for Self-Driving Car, was presented for the first time as a concept car that gave an idea of how an autonomous vehicle could look in the future. Namely: available at the touch of a button, simple, sustainable, comfortable and safe.
In order for autonomous vehicles to manage without a steering wheel, pedals and cockpit and thus without a driver, highly complex, intelligent systems, a lot of development time and high investments are required. To become the leading provider of sustainable mobility, the Volkswagen Group is therefore investing 44 billion euros by 2023 in the future fields of e-mobility, autonomous driving, new mobility services and the digitization of vehicles and plants.
The Volkswagen Group distinguishes between various degrees of automation
Today, drivers still perform most driving tasks themselves and thus make all decisions in road traffic. But responsibility is increasingly being transferred to the vehicle. In other words, when systems perform certain driving tasks independently and without human intervention for a limited period of time and under suitable, predefined conditions. Example: The autopilot. The Volkswagen Group differentiates between different levels of automation – from completely manual driving (Level 0) to autonomous driving without a steering wheel in a vehicle (Level 5):
“We as human beings have learned from childhood to recognize our environment. But we first have to teach technology that. Using sensors to understand what is happening around the vehicle and what other road users are doing”
Autonomous driving as the greatest challenge of autonomous driving
Hitzinger therefore sees this undertaking as one of the greatest challenges of our time. It is about the optimization and interaction of a highly complex system architecture consisting of sensors, high-performance computers, software algorithms and an almost endless number of traffic and safety scenarios that have to be taken into account. What it needs from its own experience are agile, compact teams.
The Volkswagen Group has therefore founded Volkswagen Autonomy GmbH, or VWAT for short. The new Wolfsburg subsidiary will have a global presence and aims to bring together the best developers from all over the world – from Wolfsburg and Beijing, to Silicon Valley – regardless of location. As a competence center for autonomous driving from level 4, VWAT under the direction of Hitzinger will bring self-propelled systems to market maturity, and with Argo AI as a strong software partner, form a bridge between the technology and automotive worlds.
Alexander Hitzinger originally comes from motorsport. As technical director at Porsche, he and his team won the "24 Hours of Le Mans" race series three times in a row and learned how important a compact team is to be successful. He also gained experience in technology at Apple in Silicon Valley. Here he was specifically responsible for autonomy. Since January 2019, he has been responsible for the development of fully autonomous driving at the Volkswagen Group.
The test drives on the route for automated and networked driving (TAVF) set up by the Hanseatic City of Hamburg enable the optimization of the software used. Already today, the specially equipped e-Golf vehicles are able to calculate the potential traffic situation about ten seconds in advance – with the help of the extensive data gained during the nine-month test phase.
The system can thus anticipate possible scenarios and significantly reduces the response time. This enables autonomous vehicles to react to any hazards before they even occur. The fast and simultaneous processing of extremely large data sets is particularly important.
The project used different approaches for artificial intelligence such as deep learning, neural networks and pattern recognition methods. The traffic situation is re-evaluated several times per second on the basis of the data. The necessary software was written by the Volkswagen Group Innovation team itself.
And: the vehicles have always been on the road in compliance with regulations, even in Hamburg’s dense road traffic. Thanks to improved algorithms for all software components, the vehicles used can safely handle even extremely complex situations.
“The development of Level 4 autonomous driving is an extremely complex undertaking, in which one is very much dependent on the availability of data,” says Hitzinger. “The test route in Hamburg allowed us to test real scenarios and then optimize the system. Next, we want to drastically increase the number of scenarios. For this we have to use simulations.”
In the foreseeable future, fully autonomous driving will even go into series production. And the vehicle to a comfortable home. An inclusive mobility experience for everyone, at any time and any place.
1e-Golf: Power consumption, kWh/100 km: combined 14.1, with 17-inch wheels – 13.2, 16 inches; CO₂ emissions combined, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+