Volkswagen wants to one day forego real-world testing for self-driving technology. As a result, the German auto giant announced it is developing virtual "test drivers" of the sort to validate self-driving technology.

The brand calls it "virtual validation," and the process could help technologies come to market quicker than ever. It's something Ford is also capitalizing on.

With virtual testing, Volkswagen would no longer have to rely on physical hardware rigs to test a driver assistance system or self-driving technology. Instead, the system will learn in the virtual world inside what the brand calls "SimFAS." SimFAS will include thousands of scenarios for a technology to learn digitally, and as more technology requires validation, Volkswagen said the software will streamline development.

Systems will connect to SimFAS and drop into virtual scenarios. Think traffic jams, parking lots, merging into traffic, and other common driving scenarios. Engineers will be able to observe how the assistance system behaves via a 3D environment and intervene when necessary to optimize the system. Eventually, SimFAS could connect to the IT cloud and learn hundreds of scenarios at the same time—a far cry from prepping one test rig to learn one scenario on a single day. 

Volkswagen has already developed the first of many scenarios to come for the system: parking lots. The application includes thousands of simulated parking lots for the virtual test driver to learn. Artificial intelligence learns and processes data exactly like physical tests taking place in real-world parking lots and proving grounds. The parking lot simulations are already working with Volkswagen's family of ID electric cars and future driver assistance systems.

Eventually, engineers may one day apply a similar practice with a "virtual concept car." A virtual vehicle model would cut down on costly physical prototypes and allow engineers to modify everything without touching a physical car.