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08/01/2019
We tested Sedric Volkswagen's fully autonomous vehicle

Self-driving car

 

Johann Jungwirth, Chief Digital Officer of Volkswagen, who spent many years in California’s Silicon Valley working for Apple, is now on stage at Germany’s hi-tech event, Cebit: "Like Steve Jobs' company, which was initially a hardware supplier, we are also looking at becoming hardware, software and service suppliers. 

Lino Garbellini • Wired

Johann Jungwirth, Chief Digital Officer of Volkswagen, who spent many years in California’s Silicon Valley working for Apple, is now on stage at Germany’s hi-tech event, Cebit: "Like Steve Jobs' company, which was initially a hardware supplier, we are also looking at becoming hardware, software and service suppliers. The automotive business is changing and we are ready for this transformation, we will always make cars, but along with them we will also supply mobility services, software with dedicated algorithms or apps”.

In Hannover, the Wolfsburg-based company highlighted the current status of its research on new AI-based mobility systems, making full use of robots, machine learning and quantum computers, not to mention on-going collaboration with specialized partners. Public event aside, we had the opportunity to see a preview of what was to be unveiled at Cebit directly at Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien “fortress”.

We were among the first journalists to climb on board Sedric, VW’s fully-autonomous (level 5) electric concept for urban travelling, first seen during the Geneva Motor Show months ago, but never in action, and intended for several applications even with drones.

Sedric is Volkswagen's "mobility on demand" response, for short trips in urban areas, ready to be operative as early as 2020, but also the trailblazer of a new concept of mobility.

Curiously shaped, narrow and tall, Sedric is designed to comfortably accommodate four passengers and was designed with a wide range of possible users in mind, from families with small children to the disabled, business people and teenagers.

Inside it feels more like a real living room than a car, complete with TV screen, large windows, plants, A/C vents hidden in the structure and adjustable LED lights. After hailing it through an app or a button on the electric key, Sedric, displays its arrival with coloured signals as well as a vibration signal designed specifically to guide a person with impaired vision towards the car. The first impact is rather strange, Sedric moves very slowly (cruising speed around 20 km/h), and easily reminds the passengers of driverless subway trains.

The car is able to recognize passengers, remind them if they have forgotten something, but above all it is equipped with an HMI (Human Machine Interface) system that interacts with them, a bit like we currently do with Siri. Volkswagen is also studying another prototype, with an HMI system designed to evaluate the possibility of communicating with other cars and people through sounds and large displays located around the car to warn, for example, about possible dangers, pot holes and the like, or a sudden stop.

No shortage of radars and infrared sensors, as one might expect, positioned on all four corners and the upper part of the vehicle, but what distinguishes it the most is its ability to learn, especially to recognize objects. Researchers are working to ensure that Sedric is able to detect obstacles impossible for humans, as well as react and slow down when, for example, approaching a pedestrian crossings or a school.

Ehra-Lessien website though, portrays additional innovative solutions. Carnet is a company founded in Barcelona as a joint effort with Seat’s research centre dedicated to study "last mile" delivery solutions in urban areas using self-driven mini cars. Ready for a pilot project as early as 2019, Carnet uses small six-wheeled vehicles that move autonomously at night, reducing pollution, but above all daily traffic. After all, how many times, going to work or taking the kids to school, we found ourselves stuck behind a van standing next to the sidewalk while the driver is busy delivering something, and thought: "did you really have to do this now…".

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