Featured in a recent TechCrunch article, Volkswagen has unveiled a new self-driving electric vehicle (EV) concept car at the Paris Motor show. VW’s EV prototype will be on display at this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit from January 8th-22nd.

Designed after Volvo’s EV platform, Volkswagen’s New Modular Electric Drive (MEB) base is engineered to take the operator completely out of the equation.

“There’s a steering wheel on board, but it vanishes when the user pushes the VW logo button in its center – retracting into the dash to provide more room for the driver to stretch out.”

VW Joins Tesla in the EV Industry

With Tesla’s Model 3 coming to market fully equipped with their proprietary self-driving hardware, the EV industry is about to get real exciting. Now, part of VW’s I.D. concept, we will get to see “a real vision of how we might use our vehicles in a post-driving world.”

According to Tesla, their full autonomy-driving feature will be safer than a human driver. “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.” VW seems to have taken a lesson from Tesla by engineering an electrically retractable steering wheel. With more cabin space for the driver, VW hopes to remove the human element out of driving – making it a more comfortable, yet safer experience.

Tesla’s Self-Driving Headstart

VW, by incorporating autonomous tech into their I.D. consumer models, is poised to challenge Tesla but they have a lot of catching up to do. The Model 3’s hardware includes eight strategically positioned surround sound cameras providing what Tesla calls, “360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range.” The 12 updated ultrasonic sensors can detect both hand and soft objects at nearly two times the distance of the prior system.

VW’s Newest Member of the I.D. Family

VW concept car, according to the company’s most recent press release, states: “While the driver relaxes, laser scanners, ultrasonic radar sensors and cameras monitor other road users and the car’s surroundings.” A bit more vague, but VW’s autonomous tech sounds very similar to Tesla’s. With 500,000 Model 3’s set to hit the streets over the next few months, Tesla is beyond the concept phase and well into the self-driving development phase.

Upgrades from Tesla

Tesla has already upgraded from its previous hardware. The new autopilot has forward-facing radar with enhanced processing. “It provides data about the world on redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.” The new onboard computer, running the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software, has more than 40x’s the computing power of its predecessor.

Make no mistake – VW’s newest member of the I.D. family is a welcomed one and its Modular Electric Drive Unit (MED) can only be described as impressive. VW, however, has to turn its concept car into a technological self-driving marvel to compete with some of the most innovative high-performance electric vehicles already hitting the streets.