Volvo to Test Self-driving Cars on Swedish Roads
In a continuation in theme from last month’s column, we focus again on driverless vehicles and the fascinating ‘Drive Me’ project which will commence in Sweden in 2014. The ground-breaking project will be the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot project, and will see 100 self-driving Volvo cars on public roads in everyday driving conditions around the city of Gothenburg.
Source: Volvo Car Group
The project is a joint initiative between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park, and the City of Gothenburg; with the aim of studying the societal benefits of autonomous driving. Due to start next year with initial customer research and technology development, the pilot scheme will see the first autonomous cars on the roads by 2017.
The vehicles to be used for the project will be defined as Highly Autonomous Cars, according to the official definition by the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) in Germany. This effectively means that the vehicle is able to assume responsibility for driving and handle all driving functions, at the driver’s discretion. The driver is still expected to be available for occasional control with a sufficient amount of time for transition, and of course, the driver will still be able to assume complete control as and when necessary.
Source: Volvo Car Group
These 100 vehicles will be new models from Volvo developed with their upcoming Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), which has been designed to allow the continuous introduction of new support and safety systems which will ultimately lead to fully autonomous driving.
The ‘Drive Me’ project is also supported by the Swedish Government as a step on the road towards its ambitious vision of a future with zero traffic fatalities. The main aim of the pilot is to gather insight into a number of key focus areas:
•How autonomous vehicles bring societal and economic benefits by improving traffic efficiency, the traffic environment and road safety.
•The infrastructure requirements for autonomous driving.
•The typical traffic situations which will be suitable for autonomous vehicles.
•Consumer confidence in autonomous vehicles.
•How surrounding drivers interact with self-driving vehicles.
The vehicles will use approximately 50km of selected roads around Gothenburg which are described as typical commuter arteries, including motorway conditions and frequent queues. Technical specialist at Volvo Car Group, Erik Coelingh, explained, "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."
Self-driving vehicles have become integral to Volvo’s technological developments as part of the company’s aim to ensure that there are no fatalities or serious injuries in its vehicles by 2020; and many of the innovative new technologies will also be introduced in vehicles available to buy in 2014. This includes Volvo’s pedestrian detection and collision avoidance system which has been improved to detect pedestrians in the dark. The cruise control and steering system which can detect road edges and barriers and steer the vehicle safely back into lane if the driver begins to veer off the road, and which can control the vehicle in heavy traffic by adjusting speed and steering according to the flow of traffic and the vehicle directly in front.
Another new technology, as yet unavailable commercially which will make up part of the ‘Drive Me’ project is automated parking, whereby a driver can exit the vehicle at the entrance to a car park and command it to find a parking space via an app on a smartphone. The vehicle will then cruise around the car park on its own before identifying a parking space and manoeuvring into it.
An important part of the research project is infrastructure, and it is hoped that valuable knowledge will be gained about future city planning as well as the infrastructure that will be required to support autonomous vehicles. Along with the benefits of reduced emissions and improved road safety, it is hoped that the project will contribute to reducing infrastructure investment and pave the way for more efficient land use. Catharina Elmsåter-Svård, Swedish minister for infrastructure, says of the project, "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."
This is clearly another exciting project in the world of autonomous driving, and the one thing that stands out is Volvo’s openness about the benefits self-driving cars can bring to road safety. One of the biggest hurdles in this area is overcoming public concern over whether it is safe to hand over control to the vehicle, and understandably, many manufacturers are reluctant to tell their customers that the car is a safer and better driver.
Volvo has taken a different tack, and is quite clear that taking control away from humans will result in improved road safety. By doing so, the company is positioning itself at the forefront of autonomous driving in Europe, and as the technology continues to develop and the public become more accepting of self-driving vehicles, Volvo will have established itself as one of the pioneers.