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Does Volkswagen's self-driving cab spell the end for taxi drivers?

By Paul Connolly

Is this self-driving prototype the future of the taxi industry?

Volkswagen has now built working versions of its SEDRIC autonomous vehicle and predicts the first vehicles will be on our streets in three years.

Volkswagen Group presents the latest version of its concept car SEDRIC
Volkswagen Group presents the latest version of its concept car SEDRIC

Journalists and others have now been given test journeys in the SEDRIC, a so-called Level 5 fully self-driving vehicle.

Initially at least, the battery-powered SEDRIC is not designed to be sold to everyday consumers; instead it will be on sale to taxi companies, hire-car firms, delivery agencies and other businesses which need to shuttle people and light goods around cities.

VW believes it will only be a matter of a number of years before the SEDRIC is taxing people around cities in a safe, clean and efficient way.

As our videos and photos show, first unveiled last September, the SEDRIC has gone beyond the concept stage and is now driving around in multiple test stages.

Development of the SEDRIC continues to gather pace. The latest version, released last month at the CeBIT expo in Hannover, is the SEDRIC Active, which comes with an extensive roof rack system.

At the touch of a button, passengers can summon the SEDRIC to deliver them and their kit to a windsurfing or mountain bike location, and them bring them home again later.

Expect a whole range of SEDRICs in the future, including sports cars and trucks.

VW is on the record as saying it is planning a whole family of SEDRICs, saying: “The concept for mobility of tomorrow combines fully automated driving at Level 5, electrification and digital networking.

Volkswagen Group presents the latest version of its concept car SEDRIC
Volkswagen Group presents the latest version of its concept car SEDRIC

“It permits simple, convenient, sustainable and safe mobility for everybody at the touch of a button. The Volkswagen Group will achieve this vision within the concept of urban mobility and in numerous other vehicle concepts from sports cars, through luxurious touring saloons to lightweight commercial vehicles and trucks.”

VW boss Matthias Müller adds: "Our team is already working on ideas for an entire SEDRIC family. This will range from fully autonomous vehicles for the city, through luxurious long-distance mobility and spectacular sports cars, self-driving delivery vans and heavy trucks.”

The SEDRIC will be available for its users round the clock and can be called up at any time using the Volkswagen OneButton, the mobility app or the digital assistant in order to transport individuals conveniently from door to door.

"SEDRIC will make a huge social contribution because it offers individual mobility to visually-impaired people, members of the older generation, physically-challenged individuals and children," says VW’s Johann Jungwirth.

"Furthermore, the fully autonomous mobility concept gives back around 38,000 hours to each person – for reading, learning, enjoyment, relaxation, playing and working."

The design of its exterior is defined by the monolithic proportions without a classic bonnet and by the generous surfaces including the covered wheels, although these are replaced in working vehicles by more normal-looking alloy wheels (to allow it to steer properly).

Portal-style doors open into an interior cabin styled like a lounge. There is no steering wheel or pedals  and passengers get an unrestricted views through large window areas. A large screen delivers infotainment and can be used to watch movies or as an advertising space.

As a fully autonomous car, it is of course, covered in sensors so the car can navigate, recognise threats, differentiate people from other objects and generally behave safely.

This requires powerful computers, cameras, 360-degree lidar sensors, long and short-distance radar and ultrasound sensors, a hardware and software architecture for data processing and vehicle control.

Essentially a massive, powerful computer and intelligent software replaces a person as the driver.

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