Volvo Extols Autonomous Driving
December 2, 2013 by John Day
Despite massive improvements in traffic safety, 1.2 million people are still killed in traffic every year. In 2007, this spurred Volvo Cars to launch a safety vision stating that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020. The company’s vision is that cars should not crash.
“Pioneering technologies involving extensive use of driver support systems will not only help us realise our safety vision but also bring strong societal and consumer benefits,” says Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of Volvo Car Group.
Modern society faces extensive future challenges to improve safety, and reduce pollution and global CO2 emissions. Autonomous driving can cut fuel consumption by up to 50 per cent in certain situations. Impaired mobility and congestion can be added to the list of challenges.
“Volvo Cars’ long-standing human-centric approach and commitment to safety gives us a different starting point from other car manufacturers when we address the field of autonomous driving,” says Håkan Samuelsson.
Allowing the car to act automatically is crucial when moving towards the vision that future cars will not crash at all. The present systems for auto braking, lane keeping aid and adaptive cruise control are examples of the first steps towards autonomous driving. Now, Volvo Cars is moving towards technologies with a higher degree of autonomous driving in normal traffic situations.
Autonomous driving in traffic queues
The first autonomous features will be introduced in the all-new Volvo XC90 by the end of 2014: Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with steer assist automatically follows the vehicle ahead in queues. Other features include road edge and barrier detection with steer assist, which detects if the car is about to drive off the road and autonomously applies steering torque to bring the vehicle back on track.
Paving the way for highly autonomous cars – a new dimension of driving
The next step is technology that follows the car in front at higher speeds, allowing the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel while still surveying the drive. This in turn paves the way for the introduction of Highly Autonomous Cars that hand over responsibility to the vehicle, which handles all driving functions at the driver’s discretion.
Gothenburg “Drive Me” Project
This sophisticated self-driving technology will be tested and evaluated in the “Drive Me” project in Volvo Car Group’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. In 2017, 100 customers will join the project using 100 self-driving Volvo cars driving on selected public roads in and around the city.
The pilot will involve self-driving cars using approximately 50 kilometres of selected roads in and around Gothenburg. These roads are typical commuter arteries and include motorway conditions and frequent queues.
“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,” explains Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist at Volvo Car Group.
“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. We believe that this cross-functional co-operation can give this development a boost,” Coelingh adds.
The vehicles in the pilot project are defined as Highly Autonomous Cars, according to the official definition 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.
The 100 Volvo cars driven by customers will be new models developed on the company’s upcoming Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). The architecture is prepared for the continuous introduction of new support and safety systems all the way to technologies that enable highly autonomous drive. The first SPA model will be the all-new Volvo XC90, which will be introduced in 2014.
The project also includes fully automated parking, without a driver in the car. This allows the driver to walk away from the car at the parking entrance while the vehicle finds a vacant spot and parks by itself.
The Drive Me project is a partnership between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park, and the City of Gothenburg. The ‘Drive Me’ project is endorsed by the Swedish Government. It will be initiated already in 2014 by a joint evaluation and development of test vehicles.
Autonomous driving will carry significant consumer benefits. It will fundamentally change the way we look at driving cars. Drivers in the future will be able to plan their drive with a mix of autonomous and active driving, allowing for efficient use of their daily journey. A driver could safely interact via phone or tablets or simply relax. Autonomous driving safely thereby paves the way for more efficient time-management behind the wheel.
Autonomous driving – with steering, acceleration and braking automatically controlled by a vehicle that requires very little human interaction – is already present in the modern transport society.
“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,” says Håkan Samuelsson.