The city of Gothenburg, Sweden will soon see 100 Volvo self-driving vehicles navigating its public roads. Volvo, one of the numerous automakers pursuing autonomous vehicle technology, has partnered with local authorities and the government to allow a small number of their experimental self-driving vehicles to be developed on public roads.
Called 'Drive Me – Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility', Volvo will be working with a number of research labs to develop their autonomous vehicle systems. Around 30 miles of public roads – including popular commuting routes and motorways – have been selected around the city of Gothenburg to be used as the self-driving test sections. The test vehicles will be judged on how well they operate on roads, how much confidence drivers have in the systems, and how other drivers interact with the autonomous systems. Research and development for the program will begin in 2014, and the cars are expected to be on the road by 2017.
"[Drive Me] will give us an insight into the technological challenges at the same time as we get valuable feedback from real customers driving on public roads," said Hakan Samuelsson, President and CEO of Volvo Car Group.
Self-driving cars have long been talked about in the automotive industry, but only recently have automakers devoted any real effort into their development. Numerous manufacturers have started with adaptive driving aids such as radar guided cruise control and lane assist, with hopes for autonomous cars around the year 2020. Volvo's hope is to get an early lead on their systems, while gathering important data on the efficiency and safety of autonomous vehicles.
The 100 Volvo vehicles will still require a certain amount of human interaction, until reaching a point where the vehicle can transition into self-driving mode. Afterwards, Volvo says the occupant can safely relax on their mobile device or choose to maximize productivity while on their journey. Once the car reaches its destination, there will be a fully autonomous parking feature. This will allow the driver to exit the car in the parking lot, after which the car will automatically find an open spot and park itself.
Up until this point, the most well known self-driving driving technology exists in the hands of Google, who has shown no intentions of releasing it to automakers. Google has reported around 300,000 miles worth of autonomous driving in their vehicles, with zero road accidents.
If Volvo's Drive Me program is a success, it will undoubtedly be a big step towards a mass market autonomous vehicle. Who knows, in the next decade the crawling commute on the 405 may become a relaxing chauffeur experience thanks to self-driving cars.