MUNICH — As Volkswagen's electric vehicle transition matures and autonomous driving capabilities from partner Argo AI grow, the automaker is thinking hard about what some purpose-built vehicle cabins ought to look like — and whether they need to undergo a similar revolution to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.
VW and Argo AI have been piloting autonomous ride-sharing in Germany with specially built versions of VW's upcoming ID Buzz microbus. But as they look to expand those offerings, including ultimately into the 10 largest cities in the U.S., the automaker is thinking about losing some foundational longtime components and gaining others, such as wheelchair ramps.
VW showed off its latest ID Buzz-based ride-share vehicles at its new test facility here near Munich airport last month. In addition to ride-sharing, plans call for the vehicles to be used for commercial deliveries.
"At this [preliminary] stage, because we have a safety driver, we need a steering wheel, but for commercial services with a digital driver, we don't," said Thomas Form, who leads the autonomous planning function for the commercial versions of the ID Buzz.
In the U.S., with regulatory framework that includes the Americans with Disabilities Act, the challenges facing designers, engineers and others trying to build autonomous mobility for everyone — including those who have impediments that would otherwise keep them from using an automobile — are complex. One example: how to secure a wheelchair in an AV if the occupant isn't physically able to do so themselves.