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VW to test self-driving tech in retro-styled electric Microbuses

<i>VW</i><br/>VW is testing self-driving vans in Austin
VW is testing self-driving vans in Austin

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

(CNN) — Ten self-driving electric Volkswagen buses will soon cruise the streets of Austin, Texas, testing autonomous driving technology. The automaker said it plans to launch commercial services in Austin by 2026.

VW’s announcement comes less than a year after the German automaker and its partner Ford announced they would no longer invest in Argo AI, a start-up working on autonomous-driving technology in which both automakers had invested heavily.

But Vokswagen did not give up on what are sometimes called “self-driving cars.” The 10 Volkwagen ID. Buzz electric vans will test technology VW is working on with Mobileye, an Israeli company once owned by Intel that also works with BMW, General Motors and Ford. Volkswagen of America plans to expand the testing program to “at least” four more cities in the US over the next three years, but it did not specify which cities.

Each van will have a human driver on board for safety during at least the initial test runs, the company said, along with being equipped with a full suite of sensors, including cameras, radar and the laser-based sensing technology, lidar,

This is the first time VW will test autonomous vehicles in the United States. The company has previously tested them in Germany.

VW won’t operate it’s own taxi service, though, as some other autonomous driving companies have planned, the company said in its announcement. Instead, VW plans to offer its automated ID. Buzz vans and their driving capabilities to other companies.

VW joins joins companies such General Motors’ Cruise, which is also operating self-driving vehicles in Austin, and Waymo, the autonomous driving subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

Autonomous cars have gained attention recently for snarling traffic and, in some cases, even being involved in crashes. The industry’s defenders have said, though, that millions of miles have been driven and that some issues are a part of the testing process.

So far, none of these companies have reached the point of providing large-scale services.

Most companies are testing autonomous vehicles in California and Arizona, states with laws in place designed to allow for self-driving vehicles and, as with Austin, good weather and sunshine which make things easier for vehicles’ sensors. Companies have tested in other states, though. Mobileye announced in 2021 it would test in New York City. Ford has tested self-driving cars in Washington, DC and Miami.

VW’s autonomous driving projects are now being led by the automaker’s Commercial Vehicles division, which is also the division that manufactures the ID. Buzz van.

A new US subsidiary for autonomous driving will employ former Argo AI staffers, the company said. The Pittsburgh start-up shut down after Ford and VW pulled their support in October, 2021. Both automakers said at the time they would hire Argo AI staffers to support their own autonomous driving efforts.

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