Taking big chances can bring big rewards (or failures).
It's impossible to know when autonomous cars will replace human-piloted cars completely, but only a fool would bet it'll be soon. As an eventuality though, the rise of fully autonomous cars is a certainty, and Volkswagen is doing the prudent thing and making sure it won't miss the boat when it arrives. Going down this road is going to be expensive, and the payoff might not be for decades, but Volkswagen has announced Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT) as a new subsidiary company.
The subsidiary will be concentrating on Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous systems. Level 4 means the car will perform autonomously in a defined case, and Level 5 means a driver is not required at all. Neither requires driver intervention.
Alexander Hitzinger, Senior Vice President for autonomous driving said: "We want to establish Volkswagen Autonomy as a global technology company where we bundle expertise from the automotive and technology industries, combining the agility and creativity of a high-performance culture with process orientation and scalability."
He then goes on to say that Volkswagen plans to draw on all the Volkswagen Group brands to keep the cost of vehicles and technologies down. Volkswagen also plans to launch commercial services on a large scale around 2025. That means we shouldn't be seeing many more cutesy pie-in-the-sky concepts from Volkswagen, but real cars being worked on now.
Hitzinger, formerly of Apple and then vice president of autonomous driving within Volkswagen Group, is a realist and understands the high development cost and the rapid rates of development in technologies that need to work together, as well as the current lack of regulation and industry standards. To that end, the word agility is an important one, and so is spreading the research out globally. The first steps are for Volkswagen Autonomy to open a second research center in Germany, and another in Silicon Valley here in the US in 2020. Another will follow in China in 2021. Volkswagen will also be working closely with Argo.ai, the tech company we've seen working with Ford and its autonomous Fusion fleet.