VW and Argo Will Turn ID. Buzz Vans Into Robo-Taxis

May 12, 2021 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Look for one version of the next VW bus to be electric and autonomous.

Volkswagen said it is partnering with Argo AI and MOIA, a German mobility company, to develop a fleet of self-driving electric vans based on its upcoming ID. Buzz.

They will start to operate in Europe as part of an autonomous car-pooling fleet in 2025. VW is also looking at how to use the vehicles for package delivery. But unlike people, parcels won’t jump out of a car and walk to the front porch, so there are multiple problems to solve before that can start, said Christian Senger, senior vice president for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

The automaker plans to tackle Europe’s densest markets first because they will have the critical mass of customers likely to use the fleet day and night.

Argo AI will provide the self-driving system for the vans and launch field trials in Germany with a test fleet later this year.

The all-electric ID. Buzz van, inspired by the old VW vans still used by many aging surfers in California, goes on sale in Europe next year and is expected to enter the U.S. market in 2023 as a 2024 year model.

Because of its size and utility, VW also is using the ID. Buzz as its first autonomous vehicle.

Argo is already testing self-driving vehicles in six U.S. cities and Munich, said Bryan Salesky, chief executive of the Pittsburgh, Penn., tech company.

Argo is testing the vehicles in crowded urban environments, which are the most complex areas for self-driving cars to operate. But they also are the place where there is a business case for autonomous ride-hailing and package delivery, Salesky said. Such services need a critical mass of customers to support the cost of integrating autonomous driving technology into a light vehicle.

That’s the opposite approach of the trucking industry, which is looking to use self-driving trucks to carry cargo between highway adjacent hubs on mapped roads. That strategy avoids having the vehicle be able to navigate crowded and often unpredictable urban traffic.

The companies said autonomous ride pooling van will use a combination of sensors – including lidar, radar and cameras – to navigate traffic and identify pedestrians and cyclists.  Argo said its new lidar sensor, Argo Lidar, can see objects from 400 meters away.

Jerry Hirsch March 31, 2021
A series of recent deals involving Volvo, Aurora and Plus demonstrates how the journey to autonomous trucking is gaining speed. 

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