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Volvo starts Drive Me experiment

It’s alive: Volvo’s Drive Me trial will be the first of its kind by allowing members of the public to live with an autonomous vehicle.

First autonomous XC90 kicks off ‘world’s most ambitious’ public self-driving trial

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Volvo logo13 Sep 2016

By DANIEL GARDNER

VOLVO’S Drive Me autonomous technology experiment has officially gone live with the first of its fleet of self-driving XC90 T8 large hybrid SUVs rolling out for initial trials in Sweden.

Vehicle #001 will be followed by “many” identical XC90s that will participate in what Volvo is calling “the world’s most ambitious and advanced public autonomous driving experiment,” allowing hands-off and feet-off motoring on shared Gothenburg roads.

While many car-makers have produced one-off or low-volume prototypes for testing by engineers, Volvo’s Drive Me project will hand the fleet of production cars over to families with no more automotive experience than owning a driver’s licence.

Another key difference is that, other than the project decals and some subtle additional sensors, the fleet of production vehicles look no different to any other XC90 on the road, highlighting how close to showroom models the technology is.

The so-called Autonomous Driving Brain is hidden out of sight under the boot floor and controls the various systems of cameras, proximity sensors and communication networks necessary to interact with the car’s surroundings.

Under normal day-to-day use, participants can drive the unique vehicles like any other XC90, but following a significant collaboration with a number of transport agencies, university and council departments, a network has been established on select roads to allow fully autonomous driving.

Previous trials and demonstrations have highlighted advances in driverless cars, including one in South Australia where a fleet of XC90s were driven along a closed highway without human intervention, but the latest evolution of testing aims to prove that the technology works in a less controlled environment.

Like all of the autonomous XC90s, the first example to roll out of the Torslanda facility will undergo a strict regime of testing and evaluation to ensure it is ready for the experiment, before being handed over to its custodian family.

Volvo’s engineers will monitor how the participants use the vehicles and their self driving capability, and the gathered data will allow Volvo’s development team to plan the next generation of driverless systems, moving ever closer to the first showroom version.

Volvo Cars active safety senior technical leader Erik Coelingh said the experiment was critical to determine how the public will make autonomous cars part of daily life in a way that cannot be simulated by engineers.

“This is an important milestone for the Drive Me project,” he said. “Customers look at their cars differently than us engineers, so we are looking forward to learn how they use these cars in their daily lives and what feedback they will give us.”

With the start of the Gothenburg trials, Volvo is predicting that the first fully autonomous production commercial vehicles will be on the road around 2021.

After the Swedish experiment, Volvo’s fleet will hit the United Kingdom’s capital for a similar trial, while a number of other countries including China have also expressed interest in running their own autonomous evaluations with the car-maker.

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