But of course Volvo would want to pursue autonomous car technologies as a way to improve safety, right?
The company that has built a safety reputation without equal said in a press release that “the company’s vision is that cars should not crash.” The way to that goal, according to the Volvo, is to make cars more autonomous.
Volvo Car Group President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson said, “Pioneering technologies involving extensive use of driver support systems will not only help us realize our safety vision but also bring strong societal and consumer benefits. 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.”
The first fully autonomous feature to be integrated into a Volvo model is coming to the XC90 by the end of 2014, the release said: Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with steer assist will enable the vehicle to autonomously follow the vehicle ahead in a queue. We’ll forgive you for picturing lemming-like scenarios in your head just now, where the car ahead of you drives off a cliff and your shiny new XC90 does the same. No worries, though, as the release said the ACC and steer assist technologies will be coupled with road edge and barrier detection that will let the vehicle “see” if it’s about to commit such an error and will keep it well within the roadway.
As autonomous technologies develop further, Volvo said the next step would be to make its cars capable of safely following others at higher speeds — just enough autonomy to allow the driver to take his or her hands off the wheel at first, then adding more capabilities later until Volvos can be “Highly Autonomous Cars,” in the release’s words, allowing the car to handle all driving tasks at the driver’s discretion.
To test and develop its autonomous car technologies, Volvo is taking part in a study called “Drive Me” in its hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. Starting in 2017, 100 Volvo customers reportedly will join the project using 100 self-driving cars milling about selected roads in and around the city. The project is a partnership between Volvo, the city of Gothenburg, Lindholmen Science Park, the Swedish Transport Administration, and the Swedish Transport Agency. Hello, Department of Redundancy Department?
In addition to the safety benefits, Volvo said autonomous cars will bring benefits to consumers, as well. In a break from some automakers who always make it a point to stress that their autonomous cars should be monitored in a very Reaganesque “Trust, but verify” way by the driver, the Volvo release was bold enough to say what we’re all thinking when it comes to car autonomy:
Autonomous driving will carry significant consumer benefits. It will fundamentally change the way we look at driving cars. As a driver in the future, you will be able to plan your drive with a mix of autonomous and active driving, allowing for efficient use of your daily journey. You 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.
There it is, folks: Volvo shares your vision that you should be able to play Candy Crush Saga on your Nexus while you allow your car to drive you to work — someday. That day is not today, but may be approaching a lot sooner than we all realize, with others conducting their own initial tests of fully autonomous cars of late. If it scares you to allow a machine to drive you around, Volvo says you shouldn’t feel intimidated at the prospect.
Samuelsson said, “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.”