Whether or not drivers are ready for it, self-driving cars are moving forward at a rapid pace. Making good on an announcement from late last year, Volvo becomes the latest automaker to start testing on public roads. The first test cars of its planned 100-car fleet are now out and about on the roadways in its headquarter city of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Volvo calls the project "Drive Me," and it's being done with the cooperation of federal and local government agencies and officials. Volvo announced last week that drivers are taking the wheels of semi-autonomous vehicles on 31 miles (50 km) of commuter routes around the city.
"The test cars are now able to handle lane following, speed adaption and merging traffic all by themselves," explains Erik Coelingh, a technical specialist. "This is an important step towards our aim that the final 'Drive Me' cars will be able to drive the whole test route in highly autonomous mode. The technology, which will be called Autopilot, enables the driver to hand over the driving to the vehicle, which takes care of all driving functions."
Volvo has emerged as one of the leaders in smart car research, developing technologies such as car-to-infrastructure communications and magnetic guidance. These technologies could eventually join existing systems like auto braking and lane-keeping aid, helping Volvo meet its ambitious goal of eliminating vehicular deaths and serious injuries in its models by 2020.
Volvo plans a step-by-step approach that will start with the all-new XC-90, which will roll out later this year. That model will include adaptive cruise control and road edge detection, both of which will have steering assist capabilities. From there, it plans to equip cars for autonomously following traffic and steering at highway speeds, adding additional autonomous technologies until the car is able to take over all driving whenever the driver sees fit.
"This public pilot will provide us with a valuable insight into the societal benefits of making autonomous vehicles a natural part of the traffic environment," says Coelingh. "Our smart vehicles are a key part of the solution, but a broad societal approach is vital to offer sustainable personal mobility in the future. This unique cross-functional cooperation is the key to a successful implementation of self-driving vehicles."