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Volvo to trial self-driving cars on public roads

Mon, 02 Dec 2013 00:00:00 -0800

Volvo has announced that it will soon begin a trial of 100 self-driving cars on the public roads around the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

While many other carmakers – and Google – have been experimenting with this kind of autonomous driving technology, the ‘Drive Me – Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility’ project is set to see driverless cars mix with real traffic on real roads.

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The Drive Me project is a joint initiative between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg.

It’s being endorsed by the Swedish government, with the aim of exploring the ‘societal benefits of autonomous driving’ while also positioning Sweden and Volvo Cars at the forefront of such ‘future mobility’ developments.

The pilot scheme will see self-driving cars take to approximately 50km (31 miles) of roads in and around Gothenburg, including ‘typical commuter arteries’, motorways, and areas with frequent queues.

Technical specialist, Volvo Car Group, Erik Coelingh:

"Our aim is for the car to be able to handle all possible traffic scenarios by itself, including leaving the traffic flow and finding a safe ‘harbour’ if the driver for any reason is unable to regain control."

What is the point of the Volvo’s self-driving car project?

Volvo believes that self-driving cars have a vital role to play in the future of road transport, especially as built-up and urban areas face ever-increasing traffic congestion. The ‘Drive Me’ project will investigate the practical implications of this.

Ultimately, Volvo is working towards the goal of zero fatalities from road accidents

Coelingh again:

"The public pilot will provide us with a valuable insight into the societal benefits of making autonomous vehicles a natural part of the traffic environment. Smart vehicles are part of the solution, but a broad societal approach is also necessary to offer sustainable personal mobility in the future."

Volvo also believes that self-driving cars can reduce emissions, improve air quality and streamline road infrastructure demands in future city planning. As well as giving people the opportunity to do other things, such as browse the internet and make phone calls from behind the wheel in perfect safety.

Ultimately, Volvo and Sweden are working towards the goal of zero fatalities from road accidents.

When will the Volvo self-driving car pilot begin?

Work on the Drive Me self-driving car project begins in 2014, starting with ‘customer research and technology development’. This includes the development of a new kind of user interface with ‘cloud functionality’ – essential for the kind of continuous communication required to make the system work.

The first self-driving Volvos are expected to take to Gothenburg’s streets ‘by 2017’.

What kind of Volvos will the self-driving cars be?

Volvo has also confirmed that the 100-strong fleet of self-driving cars will be based on an all-new model, rather than anything you see in Volvo showrooms today.

The new cars – and it may well be a mix of different models, rather than a single type – will be built on Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), a flexible new platform design that debuted with the Volvo Concept Coupe at the Frankfurt Motor Show 2013.

This new Volvo SPA ‘is prepared for the continuous introduction of new support and safety systems all the way to technologies that enable highly autonomous drive’ – in other words, it is highly adaptable and set for technological evolution over time, including incorporating all-electric drivertrains.

The first Volvo confirmed for production with the new platform is the new XC90, which is due in 2014. Others will follow in due course.

Will the self-driving Volvos always drive themselves?

Don’t expect your next Volvo to drive you home from the pub

Volvo says the self-driving cars in the Drive Me pilot will be ‘Highly Autonomous Cars’, as defined by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) in Germany:

‘In practical terms this means that the responsibility is handed over to the vehicle, which can handle all driving functions at the driver’s discretion.’


‘The driver is expected to be available for occasional control but with a sufficiently comfortable transition time.’

So, don’t expect your next Volvo to be happy to drive you all the way home from the pub. Rather, the carmaker is hoping people will plan their journeys around autonomous and non-autonomous periods of driving.

The cars will be fully equipped with autonomous parking capability, though, so they will be able to go off and park all by themselves under certain circumstances, as MSN Cars witnessed at a recent demonstration.

Will the self-driving Volvos be safe?

Given that Volvo has an immense reputation for safety that it will be determined to uphold, the firm will be doing everything it possibly can to ensure that self-driving cars are safe to use on public roads. This is what this trial scheme is all about.

Swedish minister for infrastructure, Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd:

"Sweden has developed unique co-operation between the authorities, the industry and the academic community. This has resulted in a world-leading position in traffic safety. Autonomous vehicles and a smarter infrastructure will bring us another step towards even safer traffic and an improved environment."

A final word from Coelingh:

"Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users."

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By CJ Hubbard, contributor, MSN Cars