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Volvo autonomous driving tech to aid Vision 2020

Me and you: Volvo's Drive Me autonomous driving project will include 100 driverless cars on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden by 2017.

Autonomous driving project ramps up in Sweden as Volvo shuns driverless 'gimmicks'

2 Mar 2015

VOLVO'S autonomous driving technology will be a key factor in ensuring its “vision” for zero deaths in its cars by 2020 is achieved, and the Swedish car-maker says it expects its self-driving cars to hit roads by 2017.

The Drive Me project kicked off in 2013, but following extensive research and analysis, Volvo says it has designed a “complete production-viable autonomous driving system”.

Speaking with Australian media at the first drive of the XC90 SUV in Spain last month, Volvo Car Group product communication manager Trevor O'Rourke said the autonomous driving project was progressing well and that Volvo was well ahead of other companies working on the tech.

“We have one of the most advanced autonomous drive projects of all car-makers,” he said. “We are way ahead of Google.”

Mr O'Rourke described German competitor Audi's announcement last year that it used a driverless RS7 to lap the Hockenheim race track as one of a number of “autonomous driving gimmicks”, and added that Volvo wanted to make the technology useful for everyday commuting.

“Let’s face it, you take an A7 and turn it into an autonomous car and throw it around a track and you do doughnuts in it. Doesn’t the driver want to do that? What do you want to use autonomous drive for? “To free up the time for the driver so they can do the things they want to do, use the wonderful interactive system we have, surf the web, do their work, talk on the phone, watch a film, those kinds of things. We are designing autonomous driving around the needs of the consumer, not around trying to get some cheap PR.”“We have real cars driving on real roads in Gothenburg at the moment.”

Volvo says that there will be up to 100 driverless cars on the streets of Gothenburg by 2017, and more as a part of a similar trial in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, but Mr O'Rourke added that at the moment they are just using on and off ramps of highways and major roads.

As for a wider roll-out of self-driving models to other markets, Volvo said this would happen by about 2020, and that all next-generation Volvo models – starting with the XC90 – will include at least some of the technology.

A number of other car-makers have pinpointed 2020 as the target year for full autonomous cars to be on the roads, including Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and, while Google has also committed to having its bubble-shaped self-driving vehicle out and about by 2020.

The Volvo system uses a number of technologies, including sensors, lasers, scanners, radars, cameras, high-definition 3D digital mapping, global positioning and cloud services.

Volvo said in a statement that the so-called autopilot system is reliable enough to take over all aspects of driving, but the challenge was to ensure it can cope with various traffic scenarios and possible technical faults.

“It cannot be expected that the driver is ready to suddenly intervene in a critical situation. Initially, the cars will drive autonomously on selected roads with suitable conditions, for example without oncoming traffic, cyclists and pedestrians,” the statement read.

Volvo Car Group technical specialist Erik Coelingh said in the release that while a system failure or technical fault was unlikely, a backup system would step in if required.

“Making this complex system 99 per cent reliable is not good enough,” he said.

“You need to get much closer to 100 per cent before you can let self-driving cars mix with other road users in real-life traffic.

“Here, we have a similar approach to that of the aircraft industry. Our fail-operational architecture includes backup systems that will ensure that Autopilot will continue to function safely also if an element of the system were to become disabled.”

The technology used in the autonomous driving vehicles will also benefit the car-maker's Vision 2020 plan, which is to ensure no-one is killed or seriously injured in a Volvo by 2020.

Volvo Car Group senior manager crash analysis Graeme McInally told Australian reporters that the company uses real-world crash data dating back to the 1970s to improve its safety tech, and added that Volvo's own work goes well beyond what Euro NCAP and other crash safety bodies do.

Mr McInally said that the each new generation of Volvo product improved over the previous model, but he acknowledged that a goal of no fatalities beyond 2020 was a challenge, adding “...you can't cater for everything but we see our trends.. and that’s why we have this vision”.

“The history of Volvo is safety. And we are pushing the boundaries of safety requirements. Volvo is raising the bar. We are challenging ourselves, we are challenging the authorities and legal requirements all the time.”

When asked whether it was possible an occupant could die in a Volvo after 2020, Mr O'Rourke emphasised that it was a “vision” rather than a promise to ensure no fatalities in the future.

“What we are saying is our vision is to make that next to near impossible. Our vision is that nobody will be hurt or seriously injured or killed in a brand new Volvo from 2020.

Mr O'Rourke denied the company had stepped back from its original line regarding zero fatalities.

“We are not taking a step back from anything. We are saying this is our vision that nobody will be hurt or seriously injured in a Volvo car from 2020. A vision is a vision,” he said.

Mr O'Rourke said that autonomous driving was one of a number of factors in Volvo's push to make Vision 2020 a reality.

“We do what we need to do to stop people dying in the cars whether it’s autonomous or not. It's about taking control when we need to take control and giving as much control and enjoyment to the driver as and when they need it.”

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