VW self-driving car edges closer to reality with Aurora deal

Volkswagen Group Sedric concept, 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show

The Volkswagen Group will use next week’s 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to formally announce a strategic partnership with a self-driving company by the name of Aurora Innovation.

You may not have heard of Aurora but you’ll definitely know of the key people behind it if you’ve been following the current race in the self-driving car space: Aurora was founded in 2016 by Chris Urmson, Drew Bagnell and Sterling Anderson.

Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon robotics researcher, headed the Google Self-Driving Car Project (now Waymo) until 2015. He famously said in 2015 that his goal is to ensure his eldest son, who was 11 at the time, would never need a driver’s license. Bagnell is also a former Carnegie Mellon robotics researcher as well as a former engineer at the self-driving car team at Uber. Meanwhile, Anderson completed a PhD in robotics at MIT and was previously in charge of development of Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving system.

The goal of the VW Group and Aurora partnership is to bring safe and robust self-driving cars to roads worldwide as fast as possible, and across all VW Group brands. The VW Group is hopeful of having a fully self-driving car on public roads in the first cities by 2021, though in what capacity is not known. However, the automaker does state that the long-term goal is to provide “mobility for all, at the push of a button.”

Volkswagen Group Sedric concept, 2017 Geneva auto show

The two companies have already been working closely for the past six months, integrating Aurora’s self-driving system including sensors, hardware and software—including machine learning and artificial intelligence—in VW Group vehicles.

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Should all go to plan, what might the future bring us? Think a current Uber or Lyft service but with even lower costs as there will no longer be a human driver. Costs can also be further reduced if multiple users heading in the same direction ride together, all booked seamlessly via an app or digital assistant. The VW Group has already previewed this scenario with its self-driving Sedric concept and MOIA ride-sharing service both announced in 2017.

With costs being driven down, you might find many people, especially in cities, giving up owning a car and relying purely on rides. The good news is that it should ease traffic and parking for driving enthusiasts. That is of course if actually driving a car on public roads is one day made illegal.

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