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Volkswagen and Argo AI reveal autonomous ID. Buzz AD prototype

IAA Mobility 2021

The Volkswagen ID. Buzz has begun its strip tease ahead of its official unveiling next year. Our first glimpse of the upcoming production electric van is a prototype built by Volkswagen and Argo AI complete with an arsenal of equipment that allows the vehicle to drive autonomously. Called the ID. Buzz AD (for autonomous driving), Argo AI and Volkswagen are ramping up testing development in preparation for autonomous services, which will first launch in Germany followed by the rest of the world.

At the 2021 Munich auto show, the first-generation Volkswagen ID. Buzz AD will be shown featuring level 4 self-driving capability. Argo AI is currently putting the vehicle through its paces in testing at a facility near Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport before deploying it in the city. Volkswagen and Argo AI plan to deliver self-driving ID. Buzz vans to the city of Hamburg by 2025 where it will be used for commercial services and ride-pooling. The cars will be run by MOIA, Volkswagen’s mobility services division.

Argo AI and Volkswagen are working together to make sure the project remains feasible. The ID. Buzz’s design gave the engineers working on self-driving technologies more wiggle room when it comes to mounting key components onto the vehicle. “One of the major differences of the ID. BUZZ compared to a normal car is the roof, which is huge, and provides a lot of flexibility for integrating Argo Lidar, radar, and cameras,” says Arndt von Bieren, senior hardware engineering manager at Argo AI. “In close collaboration with Volkswagen, we have managed to arrange the cameras in a beautifully designed tiara around the lidar, and to integrate efficient cooling and cleaning.”

Since joining in 2020, Argo AI’s Munich team has been focusing mainly on product development and fleet organization. They are currently working on machine learning infrastructure, analytics, and virtual testing tools. The facility near Munich’s main international airport has a test track where the company can test its vehicles and equipment. Argo AI is currently in the final stages of adding a larger second track where they will be conducting motion control and planning tests, and lidar testing. Autonomous driving tests include parking lot scenarios, regional road conditions, European-style signs and roundabouts, painted road signals, and driving on narrow and wide roads. The test track also offers the potential for fleet operations training for certified autonomous vehicle operators.

With a facility in Germany and the U.S., Argo AI now supports two key international markets and both have different rules and regulations for road use. “We have to be able to test those critical points nearly 24/7, and the faster we can do that, the faster we can get the vehicles on public roads, and the faster we get to a commercial release,” says Thomas Bock, Head of Fleet Operations for Argo AI, Europe.

Deploying the all-electric Volkswagen ID. Buzz AD in Hamburg opens up an opportunity for Argo AI to learn and improve its autonomous technologies. Thanks to imperfect weather conditions, broad government support, forward-thinking mobility initiatives, and a commitment to safety, the city of Hamburg is a good starting point in Europe. Argo AI is already testing in six cities in the U.S. and wants to expand to more locations in Europe where different driving habits, rules, geography, and climate can put its technologies to the test.

Argo AI says that the Volkswagen ID. Buzz is the ideal vehicle for commercial and ride-sharing/pooling applications because of its size and space. Underpinned by Volkswagen’s MEB architecture shared with the ID.3 and ID.4, the ID. Buzz is a full battery-electric van. It’ll be available in commercial and retail versions in single- or dual-motor flavors. A 48- or 111-kWh battery will be offered, the latter of which will likely be the only one offered in the U.S. In Europe cargo and passenger versions will be offered while the U.S. will only get the latter. A special version for ride-hailing and pooling services will also be available.

Written by Stefan Ogbac
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