The electric Golf drives itself, re-charges at parking lot and is controlled by your smartphone
* Smartphone is the key as you tell your car what to do while you're away
Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30
Now and again we get to see a moment of motoring future meet the present.
Here's what I saw on Monday.
A man gets out of a car (an electric Volkswagen Golf) in a busy high-rise airport parking lot at Schiphol, Amsterdam.
It could just as easily have been a shopping mall, supermarket or ground-level train-station car park.
The driver leaps out, in a hurry, presses the key fob and makes it look like he's heading for Departures.
The empty car then slowly moves off. Yes, the empty car starts moving, slowing or stopping to let pedestrians cross in front of it, or a van reverse out of a parking bay.
Then it neatly corners and slips down along the second leg of the rectangular building. It indicates and keeps steadily on.
I'm struck by how it keeps going at a good, safe pace. I check again. There's no one in it. The car is driving itself. It is using on-board cameras and sensors (you don't really see them) and has a 'map' of the building in its system so it is constantly checking one against the other.
It continues until it has nearly completed a full circle - if you can do such a thing in a rectangular parking lot.
Then it slowly navigates itself into a special parking bay.
And it precisely aligns itself over a thick looking mat which, when the car is stopped, inductively charges its batteries.
Nearby, in another bay another e-Golf is parked. A robot is meticulously lining up the flex and plug to insert to charge the battery.
It does so quietly and with unerring accuracy. It will stop if I as much as touch it - that's how sensitive it is.
This is all part of what Volkswagen calls their V-Charge research project which involves a spread of other (non-car) companies, statutory body and university. It is an impressive lineup.
For demonstration purposes (I couldn't sit around for hours waiting for the car to be charged), the first (self-drive) Golf is presumed replenished and it is time to vacate and let someone else get a boost.
On its own (I checked again) it reverses out and (again) heads off at a nice, steady pace to find a parking space and await the return of its real, but absent, driver.
If and when she or he returns they can, by using their smartphone in advance of arrival tell the car to come around to the entrance where he/she dropped it off in the first place.
The smartphone is key to the entire operation because that is where you are in control.
Before you leave home, or after you arrive or while waiting in departures or having a cup of coffee you can tell the car what you want it to do and when and where.
Delayed? Via your smartphone, you simply tell the car not to leave the parking slot for another two hours.
Seeing it work out in reality was understandably exciting; one of those 'wow' moments when talk and hype took a back seat to action.
But how realistic is it? Were we being shown yet another pipe dream that is either financially or structurally non-viable?
That's one of the questions I put to the experts, all of whom freely admitted that there are problems to be faced and hurdles to be crossed. And those challenges include infrastructure - such as having sufficient charging points.
There are regulatory issues too: self-driving cars invoke potentially difficult legal questions in the event of a mishap, for example.
And there is the important factor of more widespread take-up of electric cars in the first place.
However, the experts were equally adamant that what we saw in Schiphol is not just feasible; it is a logical outcome to research and work to date.
In other words, it can happen. One said it could be up and running within five years.
Others were a little more circumspect, saying this could be a bit longer.
But, for now, it is another demonstration of the centrality of connectivity and communication between man and machine. The whole exercise revolves around you being able to programme your car from your smartphone.
After that, everything else follows suit; that's where the future meets the present.