Au­ton­o­mous cars

Keen driv­ers, look away now – pretty soon, driver­less pods will be roam­ing our streets, or so says the VW Group

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - PH

Say hello to Sedric, the Volk­swa­gen Group’s idea of a self-driv­ing car. The name? Not an homage to Ja­panese sa­loons with posh old Chris­tian names: Cedric, Cres­sida and Glo­ria, but a Ger­man English joke acro­nym. Sedric is, sim­ply, a con­dens­ing of self driv­ing car.

With­out a steer­ing wheel or pedals, the en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers have been freed to do a ground-up re­think of the shape and pack­ag­ing. The doors of this rounded box open by slid­ing apart from the cen­tre, and once in­side you sit face to face. The wheelbase is sim­i­lar to an Up, but the cabin space is like a Pas­sat.

The vi­sion is, at some point in the fu­ture, you’d sum­mon Sedric with a but­ton on an in­ter­net-of-things key fob. The car comes to where you are, its cam­eras recog­nise you, and it opens. Then you just tell it where you want to go.

But is it any­thing more than a fight of fancy? We sat down on its mus­tard-yel­low seats with VW Group’s head of re­search, Ul­rich Eich­horn. His en­gi­neers have been test­ing au­ton­o­mous cars on the road for some time – not Sedrics but adapted Audi A6s. The sys­tem uses fve li­dars, a set of cam­eras and radars. A to­tal of 25 sen­sors in all. I asked Eich­horn if he’d go in it as it drove through the mid­dle of Ber­lin. No, he said. Not now. There’s a lot of learn­ing still to be done. It’s a pro­jec­tion of what might be pos­si­ble in 2025-ish. And at the same time a le­gal frame­work has to be agreed.

Sedric could work as a shared/rental car, sum­moned by an app. Or it could still be owned by house­holds as cars are now. Af­ter all, lots of peo­ple think it’s a bit icky to use a car when you – lit­er­ally – don’t know where it’s been. Eich­horn says VW’s fu­tur­ol­o­gists have no idea how many cars will be pri­vate and how many shared.

The electric drive part is pretty straight­for­ward: a fat sand­wich of bat­ter­ies un­der the foor, and a mo­tor in the rear. This is the Group’s Mod­u­lar Electric Kit (MEB). Oh and if you like driv­ing your­self, with an en­gine, don’t fret. VW isn’t as­sum­ing self-driv­ing elec­tro-pods will take over any time soon. Chief ex­ec­u­tive Matthias Müller said at the Geneva show: “We have tra­di­tion. We’ll never aban­don emo­tion or tra­di­tional tech­nol­ogy. The in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine will be with us for at least two more decades.”

He also said there are big hur­dles in the way of au­ton­o­mous cars, in­clud­ing the law and the need to fgure out how they’d share the roads with hu­man-driven cars, how the driv­ers’ data would be kept pri­vate, and “the eth­i­cal ques­tions – al­go­rithms don’t have a moral compass”. Even so, he added, “I am con­vinced au­ton­o­mous cars will one day make mo­bil­ity safer for all.”

The fu­ture’s bright, the fu­ture’s got more legroom and mus­tard seats

VW’s new zero-spoke al­loys: a dev­as­tat­ing de­vel­op­ment for the donk com­mu­nity

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