The Volkswagen Type 20 Concept Is No Ordinary Bus

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I love oxymorons. And, Volkswagen came up with a glorious doozy! VW took a 1962 Type 2 11-window Microbus and tricked it out with the latest in technology. Called the Type 20, it showcases the company’s heritage and puts on display its innovations, such as tactile objects and interactive electronics.

  • To commemorate its new innovation center in Silicon Valley, Volkswagen unveiled the Type 20 Concept, a state-of-the-art-minibus.
  • The Type 20 features a full-electric drivetrain and experimental technology that previews what’s to come from Volkswagen.
  • Volkswagen expanded the role of its research and development facility in Silicon Valley to better understand and develop features U.S-based customers want.

Volkswagen Group of America unveiled the Type 20 to commemorate a change of name and more central role for its Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL). Now called the Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC), it marks the expansion of Volkswagen Group of America’s engineering resources and will be Volkswagen Group’s biggest research facility outside Germany.

A History of Innovation in California

Founded in 1998, the ERL has resided in Silicon Valley, serving as the Volkswagen Group’s center for innovation and research. It has grown from three people to a posse of over 180 engineers, social scientists, researchers and product designers. The ERL has proved a valuable resource for Volkswagen, helping to develop technologies such as predictive navigation and online speech. In addition, it had a hand in “Stanley,” the first robotic car to complete the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 by autonomously navigating 132 miles of desert.

In support of Volkswagen’s mission, the IECC will have two divisions. The Innovation Center California (ICC), will be responsible for bilateral research and pre-development projects for VW Group brands, while the Engineering Center California (ECC) will focus on connected car, intelligent cockpit, and autonomous driving and parking development projects in the North American region.

“The future of the Volkswagen Group will be defined by our success in developing new technology that is designed to meet our customers’ needs,” said Scott Keogh, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “As we roll out the next generation of electric and autonomous vehicles, innovation will increasingly define who we are.”

The Technology Of The Future Wrapped In a 1960’s Minibus

Okay, enough about the history of Volkswagen’s new innovation hub. Let’s get into the Type 20, the true star of the show—and what’ we’ve all been waiting for. From its exterior, the Type 20 retains all the aesthetics of this flower child favorite—albeit looking like it just rolled off the assembly line. Only those with a keen eye will notice the custom wheels and rearview mirror supports that hint this is no ordinary minibus.

Featuring a full Battery Electric drivetrain, the Type 20 gallops with a respectable 120 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. That’s more giddyap than a Nissan Versa, a Toyota Yaris and a Fiat 500e.  It gets its juice from a 10kWh battery and 2,500-Watt onboard charger. The Type 20 got the benefit of the brain trust at Porsche (another of the Volkswagen Group’s brands), which helped develop the custom-designed active pneumatic suspension that adjusts the ride height via software.

Welcome Aboard The Starship Enterprise

The Type 20 goes sci-fi with biometric vehicle access using real-time facial recognition integrated with the digital assistant. Using a 720p wide-angle camera housed in the driver’s-side second window, the recognition works via the Sensory SDK, running in real-time on a Nvidia Jetson TX2.

As for the Conversational Digital Assistant, it makes Siri and Alexa look like amateurs. Directional microphones are placed into three zones on the vehicle: front exterior, driver cockpit and rear passenger zone. Building upon the Volkswagen’s speech capabilities, this upgrade apparently will respond to “more natural language commands.” If you’re having a conversation with the Type 20 outside the vehicle, you’ll get your answer from LED feedback from the headlights and VW logo.

Sadly, the Type 20 isn’t for sale. Bummer, I know. But. The Type 20 will be on display at the newly-minted IECC in Silicon Valley. Come for the Type 20, stay for the installations that include past prototypes, project artifacts and historic vehicles.

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