Volkswagen is trialling virtual test-drive simulations with a view to shortening development and validation times for driver assistance systems. These are to ‘teach’ the cars, potentially cutting the costs of physical testing as well as accelerating the learning speed of the systems themselves, since the simulations can run continuously. Fewer test rigs and less hardware will be required.

The SimFAS software is being developed by the VW Group IT and Technical Development teams. This will generate simulations of any traffic and driving situation required and visualize this environment in 3D graphics, with vehicle sensors processing the virtual ambient data as they would the ‘real’ input. The engineers can observe the behaviour of the assistance systems and intervene or optimize as necessary.

The SimFAS environment is already being deployed for development of the upcoming I.D. models (pictured), testing the systems for a virtual car park pilot using simulations of thousands of car parks. It is planned that the platform will be linked to the Volkswagen Group IT Cloud: not only will this give “enormous computing capacity”, according to the brand, but a large virtual library of traffic situations and learning examples can be built up for use across the Group.

Volkswagen board member for development Dr Frank Welsch said in a statement: “We are building on our strong global development team and grasping all the opportunities offered by digitalisation. This also includes virtual validation. We are developing this technology for our work as it will make for faster and more efficient development processes.”

The company has also confirmed that it is “relocating design and development decisions to the virtual area”. One example of this is the creation of more sophisticated virtual concept cars: models giving engineers and designers the chance to fully interact with, and modify, exterior, interior, instruments and multimedia systems, with the aim of cutting down on the number of physical prototypes needed.

To further underline the importance of its software strategy, Volkswagen is about to start training hundreds of developers in-house in a new program called 'Faculty 73'. The first trainees, to start the two-year course in Wolfsburg next spring, will have already completed vocational training with Volkswagen, but the program will be open to external candidates and job-seekers as well. Selection starts in October 2018.

-Farah Alkhalisi