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 Autonomous across the city?


Our report is based on an article in c't 08/22. However, unlike this one, we want to focus on autonomous driving, or what we can already say about it. No, the shuttles do not yet drive autonomously through Hamburg, at least not in regular public use.

What is certain is that VW and thus also MOIA use the services of Argo AI. You may remember that this is one of four to five companies specializing in autonomous driving, originally from Pittsburgh, upgraded in 2017 by Ford investing heavily. In 2020, VW got in here with even more money.

Due to the merger with its existing company in Munich, part of Argo AI is obviously already considered as a subsidiary of VW. However, this does not represent a separation from Argo AI, because, for example, the additional hardware for the shuttles based on the MEB modular system with the largest possible battery comes from the USA.

Since 2019, 500 shuttles have been operating in an area in Hamburg that was originally 320 square kilometers in size, severely restricted by the pandemic. This is probably why the possibility of having more than one passenger is not used enough. Of course, all of this puts pressure on the operating result.

Interestingly, one of the greatest hopes for autonomous driving is to improve it, because the expensive employment of drivers, which is often only temporary, would then be eliminated. However, with Moia and Argo AI we only ever talk about level 4. In our understanding, however, a supervisor would only be dispensable at level 5.

After all, there seem to have been test trips since the end of 2021, with even two people from the company on board. Apparently they didn't choose particularly traffic-calmed areas, but rather went right into the zones with the greatest possible problems.

And there are certainly enough of them. First, there is the rumbling commotion of the taxi industry and public transport, which probably cannot keep up if employee wages can be excluded from operating costs. In any case, the VW Group already represents somewhat unfair competition, as the entire shuttle operation probably requires high subsidies.

There are reports from the USA that the expensive lidar systems on the roof are being shot down with baseballs or that the test shuttles in Hamburg are being artificially stopped in order to test their automatic brakes. Not to mention possible difficulties in use. Well, whether everyone is wearing a seatbelt can still be tested using seat detectors and sensors on the belts.

But does everyone realize that he/she is the cause of the problem? What if someone desperately needs a doctor now because of heart failure? In extreme cases: Is someone sleeping or is they 'just' unconscious? This is probably why the second person is on board to record all of these possibilities.

Experience has already shown in the manufacture of new cars that the problem areas really begin to grow decidedly with the first practical tests. The ability to stop and let passengers get on or off is hardly available in larger cities, for example due to the now increasing number of cycle paths.

This means curving through side streets, often blocked by delivery vehicles. It's not much use if the other customers are told when they'll arrive, even if it's in one area. When reading the article you get the impression that the fewer passengers, the more difficult.

Does anyone notice that luggage prevents the door from closing properly? Is the error message clearly visible from any location? Does someone dare to make the other person aware of their wrongdoing, or are there still discussions along the lines of 'It can't be?'

It can be assumed that the term 'Level 4' was not so wrong after all. The shuttles, which currently operate in much more restricted areas, also have a supervisor on board. If he/she also has a driving license, all the conditions for this level are met. The taxi industry and public transport can sleep easy, because VW won't be able to keep up the subsidies forever.

Someone is still needed in the vehicle . . .

except when driving on very limited terrain and a control center, perhaps a partial solution.

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