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Wave a cheery hello to Sedric, VW's self-driving car

VW Group's Geneva concept shows us how driverless pods might look in 2025

Say hello to Sedric. Say hello, because Sedric is designed to be pretty darned clever – almost clever enough to answer. This is The Volkswagen Group’s idea of a self-driving car.

Ah yes, the name. We Brits all sniggered as it reminded us of a badge once applied by Nissan in the period when Japanese saloons rejoiced in posh old Christian names: Cedric, Cressida and Gloria. But actually it’s a German English joke acronym, and therefore Very Funny, d’you hear. Sedric is, simply, a condensing of self driving car.

Without a steering wheel or pedals, the engineers and designers have been freed to do a ground-up re-think of the shape and package inside and out. It reminds TopGear.com of another driverless people-carrier, a ski lift. The doors of this rounded box open by sliding apart from the centre, and once inside you sit face to face. The wheelbase is similar to an Up, but the cabin space is like a Passat.

The vision is, at some point maybe seven years in the future, you’d summon Sedric with a simple button on an internet-of-things key fob. The car comes to where you are, its cameras recognise you, and it opens. Then you just tell it where you want to go. Job done.

But is it anything more than a flight of fancy? We sat down on its mustard-yellow seats, rested our feet on its birchwood floor, and spoke with VW Group’s head of research Ulrich Eichhorn.

He said he hadn’t actually seen the finished car until the morning of its unveil. But the technology underneath has a year’s worth of development in it.

Eichhorn’s engineers have been testing autonomous cars on the road for some time – not Sedrics but adapted Audi A6s. The system uses five lidars, a set of cameras, and radars. A total of 25 sensors in all. Vast computing power fuses the data from all the sensors and builds a 3D digital image of the world around, and how it’s changing. This is overlaid on super-detailed map data the car carries with it. Oh and also cloud data from other surrounding cars.

But if you’d bought the first connected autonomous car, no other cars would be uploading to that cloud, so the VW would have to be able to work just with its own maps and sensor data, Eichhorn says.

So I asked if he’d go in it as it drove through the middle of Berlin. No, he said. Not now. There’s a lot of learning still to be done. It’s a projection of what might be possible in 2025-ish. And at the same time a legal framework has to be agreed.

But with no need for a forward facing driver’s position, or a steering column or pedal box, they made the car a whole lot boxier, and left the flat floor free for playing footsie. The front seats face back, and fold up like cinema chairs. the prime seats are the back ones. The windscreen is semi-transparent, an OLED screen that can show information, entertainment or go clear so riders can enjoy the view.

The Sedric could work as a shared/rental car, summoned by an app. Or it could still be owned by households as cars are now. After all, lots of people think it’s a bit icky to use a car when you – literally – don’t know where it’s been. Eichhorn says VW’s futurologists have no idea how many cars will be private and how many shared.

The designers, led by Michael Mauer, were careful not to make it look like a VW. It’s not a VW brand car – its a VW Group concept, the first one they have done. There’s no intention to sell VW Group-badged cars, but the Sedric is all about showing off the Group’s central research and design ability. The individual brands, the logic goes, can take whatever ideas and tech they want from it.

Oh and just to prove it’s a concept car, there are cacti growing on the parcel shelf, to purify the air. Yeah right.

The electric drive part is pretty straightforward: a flat sandwich of batteries under the floor, and a motor in the rear. This is the Group’s Modular Electric Kit (MEB) which will be used for up to 30 different production vehicles from several of the Group brands in the next decade.

Oh and if you like driving yourself, with an engine, don’t fret. VW isn’t assuming self-driving electro-pods will take over ay time soon. Chief executive Matthias Muller said at the Geneva show: “We have tradition. We’ll never abandon emotion or traditional technology. The internal combustion engine will be with us for at least two more decades.”

He also said there are big hurdles in the way of autonomous cars, including the law, and the need to figure out how they’d share the roads with human-driven cars, how the drivers’ data would be kept private, and “the ethical questions – algorithms don’t have a moral compass.” Even so, he added, “I am convinced autonomous cars will one day make mobility safer for us all.”

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