The growing convergence between the auto and tech industries continues to see new players enter the domain traditionally held exclusively by the major automakers. This is especially the case in the area of self-driving cars where tech companies appear to have the early lead. But the automakers aren't going down without a fight and have started investing heavily in software development.
Take for example the Volkswagen Group which is in the process of a transformation from a traditional automaker into a software-led mobility provider. Through its main Volkswagen brand, the automaker wants to transform the car into a software-based product through which it can offer new data-based services, including eventually a self-driving taxi service that can open up the company to more customers.
And a new technological flagship code-named Project Trinity due in 2026 will be central to this. The code name is a reference to the three main tenets the vehicle represents: a new platform, new production processes, and self-driving technology integrating artificial intelligence.
Volkswagen Project Trinity
First announced by VW brand boss Ralf Brandstaetter in January, Project Trinity will be a small and affordable electric vehicle built using a new type of highly automated production at VW's main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. One feature of the new production method will be the vehicle having all of its features installed and customers able to later unlock them on demand via software. The highly efficient production technique will help VW keep costs down, with Brandstaetter previously hinting at a starting price of about 35,000 euros (approximately $41,760).
Project Trinity will also be where VW introduces its latest self-driving technology for private use. For commercial use, VW will rely on a self-driving system from Argo AI. Brandstaetter in a Friday presentation said Project Trinity at launch will rank at “level 2+” on the SAE scale of self-driving capability, which means the vehicle will be able to function on its own in a wide range of areas but will still require monitoring from the driver at all times. He said eventually it will be upgraded to Level 4, which means it will be able to handle itself for extended periods but only within set conditions.
What will enable this advancement is the development of a neural network that VW will use to gather data from the millions of vehicles it sells every year around the globe. Think of it as a form of artificial intelligence where a computer uses the gathered data from millions of vehicles to “learn” how to perform actions on its own, i.e. without the need to be explicitly programmed with pre-defined algorithms. In the case of self-driving cars, data is gathered initially from a human doing the driving. The AI then looks for patterns in the data and then predicts an outcome. As more and more test miles are driven, the system becomes more refined. Brandstaetter said VW will work with other VW Group brands to build up the neural network. It's a technique Tesla has largely pioneered among major automakers.
VW has had trouble with recent launches like the ID.3 electric hatch and the eighth-generation Golf due to software-related issues. To improve its proficiency in this area, the automaker in 2020 established the Car.Software division whose goal is to develop and maintain a company-specific operating system dubbed VW.OS, just like Apple with iOS and Google with Android.
The focus of the Car.Software division is on developing common software that all VW Group brands will utilize. This is a real strength as the high volumes will ensure the necessary scaling of the software. Investments of more than 7 billion euros (approximately $8.35 billion) are planned for the software division by 2025.
“E-mobility was just the beginning: the real disruption has yet to come,” Brandstaetter said. “In the coming years, we will change Volkswagen as never before.”