Let Sedric Do the Driving

VW Group is advancing what could become the vehicle that comes to you at the push of a button.

Those of you who are frequent users of or visitors to Amazon are probably familiar with the company’s “Dash” button, the little device with a particular product’s logo (e.g., Tide) and a circular area that is pushed. When that is activated, it communicates via Wi-Fi to the Amazon Shopping app and before too very long (well, days, not minutes) a box of Tide is delivered to your door.

Which brings us to Sedric, Volkswagen Group’s concept Level 5 autonomous vehicle. It is summoned, explained Matthias Müller, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, upon introducing the vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show, by pushing what they’re calling “the OneButton.” There is a circular blue light that shows the proximity of the autonomous vehicle as it approaches the summoner.

The vehicle was developed at the Volkswagen Group Future Center in Potsdam, with researchers, engineers and technicians there working with colleagues at Volkswagen Group Research in Wolfsburg.

Notably, there are a whole lot of Volkswagen operations that have been established from Silicon Valley to Beijing, competence centers and digital labs where work is underway to develop the tools necessary—from batteries to artificial intelligence—to advance the states of mobility and autonomy.

Sedric has a monoform, taking advantage of the ability to mount the electric motors at the axles and to package the batteries under the floor. Ingress and egress for the passengers and their packages (assuming, of course, that this is still something that’s transported individually and not by Amazon’s proposed fleet of drones) are facilitated by a large, two-part swivel door that opens outward from the center. The interior, which is ladened with natural materials (including a small area on top of what would otherwise be considered the instrument panel—there are no pedals, no steering wheel and no conventional IP—that is planted with cacti for purposes of enhanced cabin air filtration), seats four.

While there are no specific numbers provided either regarding physical dimensions or performance attributes, one thing about the design does seem somewhat unusual: there are fender skirts that end just a few centimeters above the ground. While there is something to be said for aerodynamic enhancements—to say nothing of the fact that it helps make this minibus look futuristically cool—it appears this is going to be a comparatively low-speed vehicle, so it may be that this is more show than go.

The vehicle is equipped with an array of sensors, from LiDAR to radar to ultrasonics. It also makes use of digital map information. (Müller pointed out that Volkswagen is working with companies including Mobileye and NVIDIA; it is part owner of the mapping company HERE.) Müller said that they can foresee Sedric as both a shared vehicle for ride-hailing applications as well as a vehicle that would be privately owned.

But it is, of course, a concept. He pointed out that this is the first-ever concept from Volkswagen Group—it is not a concept from Audi or Bentley or Porsche or SEAT or Skoda or Bugatti or Lamborghini or, well, VW. Still, he emphasized the work that Audi and VW have been doing over the past several years in developing autonomous driving capabilities, whether it was a Touareg-based vehicle winning the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge or an Audi A7 driving—autonomously—from San Francisco to Las Vegas in 2015.

Müller acknowledged that the road to autonomous vehicles is not exactly a straight one that is technology-based alone. There are legal and political issues that need to be addressed before people are pushing their OneButtons. What’s more, there are even ethical concerns. Müller: “Algorithms don’t have a moral compass.”

But be that as it may, it is clear that Volkswagen Group is devoting a tremendous amount of resources on developing vehicles for the future.

And for those who are somewhat unsettled by the notion of driverless electrically powered vehicles, know that Müller, who said the Group is investing several billion euros into the development of such technologies, also said that they anticipate conventional internal combustion engine-powered cars will continue for “at least” two decades.