Like many companies in the automotive industry, over the past couple of years, both Bosch and Volkswagen Group have established large software engineering groups within their respective organizations. Software teams from across all divisions of these two German behemoths have been consolidated into the Bosch Cross-Domain Computing Solutions and Cariad groups respectively. Now over 1,000 engineers from those two companies will be working together to develop hands-free driving assist systems to deploy on upcoming VW Group vehicles.
Currently, VW doesn’t have any such systems in production while an increasing number of its competitors are either already offering this capability or soon will. According to the announcement from the two companies, both hands-off/eyes-on/brain-on (aka Level 2 partial automation) and hands-off/eyes-off/brain-on (Level in the SAE nomenclature) capabilities are being developed. The first of those, likely the eyes-on capability that still requires full driver supervision, will launch in 2023.
No time frame is being given for the eyes-off functionality. It’s important to note that while such systems enable the driver to look away from the road while the car handles all steering, braking and acceleration in defined areas, this still doesn’t really qualify as fully automated. When the system reaches the limits of its operating domain, the driver has to be ready to take over within about 10 seconds notice. That means that while the driver can watch a video, read or text, they can’t take a nap or climb out of the driver’s seat.
Currently the only vehicles available with such capabilities are a limited edition Honda Legend in Japan and the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS in Germany. All of these systems comply with current UNECE regulations that allow such automated lane keeping systems to operate on defined highways and at speeds up to 37 mph and also require open data logging and active driver monitoring. BMW is expected to launch a similar system on the new 7 series later this year.
Unlike the automated robotaxi and delivery systems being developed for VW by Argo AI, both of these eyes-on and eyes-off systems are designed to go on consumer owned vehicles rather than fleets.
The development teams will be located mainly in Stuttgart and Ingolstadt where Bosch and Audi are based. Audi has been taking the lead in developing these types of systems within the VW group for many years and announced an L3 system for the A8 when it was launched in 2018, but it was never released because the regulations to allow it were not in place. That A8 was the first production vehicle that included a scanning lidar sensor and the new systems will likely also include newer versions of that technology as part of the 360 degree sensing suite.
The teams will be leveraging real world data captured from vehicles to train artificial intelligence models to assist with the perception capabilities. Volkswagen already has millions of connected vehicles on the road across its brands, most with multiple cameras that can be used to capture snippets of unusual scenarios, much like Tesla tries to do with its AutoPilot shadow mode development. Unlike Tesla, high definition maps will also be leveraged to improve localization of the vehicle and also long-range beyond line-of-sight sensing of curves in the road ahead and terrain changes.
Longer term, the partnership plans to make its systems available beyond VW Group brands to other automakers that want to use the technology. While there are no immediate plans for a brain-off or Level 4 system, the partners will evaluate whether they can evolve the technology to achieve that capability safely for consumer vehicles in the future.