Written by Chris Knapman in The Telegraph on 2 November 2013.
Volvo is to introduce 100 driverless cars on to public roads as part of the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot.
The cars will drive in normal, everyday road conditions, surrounded by pedestrians and other traffic, and will even be able to self-park, as the Swedish car-maker (which is now under Chinese ownership) attempts to demonstrate the benefits, including improved safety and efficiency, of self-driving cars.
Volvo is working alongside the Swedish Transport Administration, The Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gotehenburg, with the goal of placing both it and Sweden as leaders in the development of future mobility.
As part of the trial, driverless cars will also be able to park themselves
Called “Drive Me – Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility”, the pilot scheme gets underway next year with customer research and further development of current technology. The cars themselves won’t appear until 2017, when they will drive on about 30 miles of public road in and around Gothenburg, described as “typical commuter arteries” that include motorway conditions and frequent queues.
“Autonomous vehicles are an integrated part of Volvo Cars’ as well as the Swedish government’s vision of zero traffic fatalities. This public pilot represents an important step towards this goal,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of the Volvo Car Group. “It will give us an insight into the technological challenges at the same time as we get valuable feedback from real customers driving on public roads.”
Drivers could use an app to initiate the parking
As well as the direct implications of what are classed by the Federal Highway Research Institute as “Highly Autonomous Cars” on the public road, the pilot aims to establish infrastructure requirements for autonomous driving (the idea being that due to their increased efficiency, they free up more land and thus reduce infrastructure investment), suitable traffic conditions and customer confidence in the vehicles. The interaction of other drivers is also a key part of the study.
The trial doesn’t necessarily spell the beginning of the end for the role of the driver, however. Volvo says that whoever is at the wheel must be expected to be available for occasional control, albeit with a comfortable transition time. “The self-driving technology used in the pilot allows you to hand over the driving to the car when the circumstances are appropriate,” said Samuelsson.
Fully automated parking, where the driver exits the car and leaves it to find and then park in a space is also included in the study.
The development of autonomous driving is all part of Volvo’s goal that nobody should be killed or seriously injured in one of its cars by 2020. Many of its product range already carries technology such as autonomous emergency braking, which can slow and even stop the car if a driver fails to react to an impending collision, as well as cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
Volvo hasn’t confirmed which of its models will be used in the trial, but they are likely to include the all-new XC90 SUV, which goes on sale next year with a further development of the current safety systems that will allow it to drive and steer itself in traffic queues. Adapting the technology to Highly Autonomous standards means being able to make the system work at higher speeds.
“Hardly anyone thinks twice about being in an airplane that flies on autopilot, but being in a car that drives by itself while the driver reads a book is still quite a revolutionary thought for many people,” added Samuelsson.
In the UK, researchers at Oxford Universirty have been testing a driverless Nissan Leaf electric car on private land.