Volvo to trial driverless cars on open roads within three years

Company aims to have no-one killed or seriously injured in their cars by 2020

by Sarah Barth   December 3, 2013  

Volvo self drive car.png

Volvo is to begin a large scale trial of driverless cars on public roads within three years.

The project, Drive Me, has the ambition of eliminating deadly car crashes in Sweden, according to Erik Coelingh, technical specialist at Volvo Car Group. Volvo’s aim is that no-one should be killed or seriously injured in one of their cars by 2020.

Many of their ranges already include pedestrian and cyclist detection technology and autonomous emergency braking.

People who buy the autonomous XC90 cars will be able to forget about the controls on around 30 miles along 50 commuter routes around Sweden’s second largest city, including motorways and frequently jammed junctions. The cars will even be able to park themselves.

In a collaboration between Volvo, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg, there will be 100 ‘autonomous drive’ cars on the streets of Gothenburg by 2017, in an attempt to demonstrate how much safer self-driving cars are.

“Autonomous vehicles are an integrated part of Volvo Cars’ as well as the Swedish government’s vision of zero traffic fatalities. This public pilot represents an important step towards this goal,” Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of the Volvo Car Group, told the Telegraph.

“It 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.”

A video available to view here explains how the cars use radars and cameras to monitor the environment around them, also making use of a map being constantly updated from Volvo’s cloud.

The creators say that humans will need to control the cars around pedestrians in the city centre, saying that they will be most useful in monotonous traffic situations, where by 2017, it should be possible for drivers to read the paper or have a cup of coffee on selected roads.

Emergency controls can be used by the driver in the case of the technology failing, and Volvo's self-driving car will stop in its lane or if possible in an emergency lane if the driver cannot take over.

Automated parking will be possible in certain areas by the driver getting out and using an app on his or her mobile to start the parking process. The car will search for a free space before parking itself, while keeping account of other cars and pedestrians.

“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,” added Samuelsson.

Last year we reported how two thirds of motorists say they’re unsure about the merits of driverless cars, while four in ten state that they would never even consider driving one, according to a survey from road safety charity IAM.

Opinion regarding such vehicles being restricted to driving within the speed limit is split right down the middle – half of motorists polled say it is a positive feature, but half see it as a drawback.

Cars that drive themselves are also being tested by Google, Mercedes and other companies. As we reported last year, Florida and California have permitted testing of self-driving vehicles. And the UK announced in July it would start testing autonomous cars on the road by the end of the year.

18 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Progress, at least.

I like the idea of a car that drives off to find a parking space after you've gotten out. This would enable wider use of those funky compact storage facilities that don't allow for humans inside.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2926 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 13:47

like this
Like (7)

while four in ten state that they would never even consider driving one,

Because they'd have to stop at red lights, obey the speed limit, not tailgate and not do dangerous overtakes...

posted by crazy-legs [484 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 14:00

like this
Like (18)

they've been able to do this for donkeys years and not just Volvo. The trouble they have is one of product liability and the Vienna Convention. If you drive a Volvo and kill someone, you're to blame or in the frame anyway. If the Car's driving itself then its Volvo in the frame. Or if there is a failure of any sort. Cars go on the road in their tens and hundreds of thousands and stay there for an average 12 years some for 25 to 30. Especially premium Marques like Volvos. Their system has to be failure free for that long.

The Vienna convention stops the vehicle from taking control until it's past the point of no return so to speak. A millisecond past is enough. That means that while technically they can avoid collisions the driver has to have failed to act in time and so collisions are only able to be mitigated.

And motorists have to buy them. Until now they have preferred in car safety and comfort and not shown any desire to pay to have their car made safer for those outside it.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [505 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 14:04

like this
Like (10)

they've been able to do this for donkeys years and not just Volvo.

Really? The google car needs computers powerful enough to process nearly 1tb of data EVERY SECOND from all of the LIDAR, RADAR and camera sensors.

The only previous systems I'm aware of just followed wires in the road and such like, they weren't aware of the environment like the current systems.

I'm pretty sure the Vienna convention (from 1968) can be changed.

posted by ribena [132 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 14:30

like this
Like (10)

'Company aims to have no-one killed or seriously injured in their cars by 2020' - do they have an aim for how many will be killed BY their cars?

posted by Chris James [157 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 14:36

like this
Like (20)

It'll be against someone's Human Rights not to let them drive a car how they want to!


posted by Shades [172 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 16:32

like this
Like (9)

I actually have a Volvo V60 - it's a soothing, safe and increasingly civilised alternative to my old Audis.

There are too many dangers to watch out for around town to make driving manually anything but a chore, so I'd welcome a system like this. Disclaimer: I am also a Pistonhead... but I realise that there *is* a place for this sort of thing.

My car already has an urban auto-brake function and all sorts of other safety tech. A word of warning though: when I drive my wife's car afterwards, I realise than I've lapsed a level of awareness because I assume the constant monitoring is still there (when it's not).

posted by BenH [7 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 16:55

like this
Like (10)

They absolutely would tailgate. Autonomous cars would be able to drive within inches of each other as they'd communicate any need to brake instantly, saving a fortune in fuel on motorways and massively reducing congestion. Really, this can't happen soon enough.

posted by benezeir [52 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 17:10

like this
Like (6)

I think that autonomous cars are inevitable. I imagine that your insurance will, at some point, become much cheaper if your car is autonomous.

I think it is pretty weird that trains are still driven by humans. They're in a much more controlled environment than the roads. If when we get autonomous cars driving on the roads we still have train drivers, it will look really daft.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1329 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 18:01

like this
Like (7)

I can't wait for autonomous cars, frankly. They'll drive predictably, leave a (configurable) gap around any slower-moving object (cyclist, horse, pedestrian), won't make red-mist overtakes when they can see (by radar) a queue of traffic up ahead, etc.

My current car is the first I've had with cruise control on, and while it's useless in the South East, a few months ago I was in France and at one point drove over 100 miles on an autoroute without touching any of the pedals (you can't speed any more, so may as well chill...). I had to keep reminding myself to steer. If the car was taking care of that too I could have been reading the paper, playing Scrabble with the wife, etc...

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [743 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 18:32

like this
Like (3)

Get yourself in the centre of the lane in front of a Volvo, but hope it is not driven by one of those Humans.

Between the S and the LOW

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1182 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 19:01

like this
Like (10)

When i ran my old ragingbike commuting website and subscribers posted incidents, after white vans and taxis, Volvos were persistently the worst offenders.

Im really quite peaceful, it's just that i have as much right to ride as you have to drive

posted by ragingbike [8 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 19:04

like this
Like (10)

16% fuel savings to be exact....

I have tested this stuff and it is awesome.

Google "volvo SARTRE" to see my day job.


posted by Hammer [7 posts]
3rd December 2013 - 20:52

like this
Like (4)

benezeir wrote:
They absolutely would tailgate. Autonomous cars would be able to drive within inches of each other as they'd communicate any need to brake instantly, saving a fortune in fuel on motorways and massively reducing congestion. Really, this can't happen soon enough.

Completely wrong, braking distances determine the gap, if the car in front can stop in 30 feet and the car behind can only stop in 60 feet because of different brakes the car behind needs to leave at least a 30 foot gap.

posted by kie7077 [420 posts]
4th December 2013 - 1:11

like this
Like (8)

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

Cooks's picture

posted by Cooks [478 posts]
4th December 2013 - 1:40

like this
Like (7)

Johnny Cab is closer to reality.

People are thinking of autonomous cars as a normal car, with a button so it drives itself.

I think its more likely, at least initially, that companies will run fleets of them on a pay-per-use, or monthly fee basis. No driving license required.

posted by ribena [132 posts]
4th December 2013 - 10:49

like this
Like (5)

Oh yes they could amend the Vienna convention but they ain't going to. How many people make a living out of driving or piloting vehicles? They are a powerful political lobby worldwide. Then you have the manufacturers. They sel lots of new models and souped up sporty things that people buy over and over again. Most cars are not sold on safety but on driving experience. If they are all driverless then sales will inevitable go down. Then there is a whole accident repair and recovery business that would be reduced to zilch. And as I said the main issue is that of product liability. Legally a driver is responsible for an accident either by driving or by failure to maintain. Imagine if one of these cars killed someone. How would you figure out liability. Was it the OEM hardware, software, sensors, actuators, was it the software testing, or architecture? and everyones' in house legal team shifting blame for years.

And yes this has been possible for years. I sat in a BMW at an event in Paris in 2008 and the car could drive itself. The test was a changeable road that the vehicle responded to. 2008 I also attended Safe Highways of the Future in Brussels where this stuff was already in existence

The EU has been working with industry on this since 1997 on the EUREKA Prometheus Project and it's been part of the European Framework on esafety since 2002.

This stuff doesn't just come out of the blue and for it to work it has to use common standards for VANETS and other sensors/comms. And yes they have been able to do this for years. Volvo is part of the consortium.

Politically the effort will go towards what is termed Vision Zero a term invented by Claes Tingvall. Using his model that widens the focus away from technology in vehicles and towards sound engineering and design of vehicles and roads as well as ethical driving as the biggest bang for a safety buck. Basically five star drivers in five star vehicles on five star roads with five star cyclists I should add is more effective than simply giving a few well off drivers a fancy black box. A lot of work has created vehicles that are pretty safe (passive safety) for their occupants. Of course that just needs standarts like NCAP and consumer purchase to achieve. Roads and training / enforcement are more expensive and long term. I am 52 and passed my test in 1979. I am also an advanced driver and former professional driver. In terms of how long these things take I can vouch that my 18 year old son who passed his test earlier this year at 17 did have a much more rigorous regime of training and test than I ever had to contemplate.

I wouldn't hold you breath on driverless vehicles on the road. In industry and public transport you may see limited uses. I would favour the chipping of vehicles and road to vehicle or GPS sensors for speeding and other enforcement and for insurance companies to make far more use of the GPS box of tricks they use to monitor young drivers. This could be fitted to all new cars and enforced by insurance companies quite easily. Box switched off = x premium Box switched on = X-Y premium. Over time the drivers declining would be a smaller and smaller pool of expensive to insure drivers. The better drivers lower risk would be the prime business of insurance companies. Other benefits would be in disputed claims where a driver without the box switched on would be at a disadvantage in liability claims.

In essence the best way to improve driver behaviour is to stop aggregating risk and cost and start individualising it.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [505 posts]
4th December 2013 - 11:39

like this
Like (4)

They absolutely would tailgate. Autonomous cars would be able to drive within inches of each other as they'd communicate any need to brake instantly, saving a fortune in fuel on motorways and massively reducing congestion. Really, this can't happen soon enough.

That can only happen when ALL cars are autonomous and you're in a sort of I, Robot style world.

There is however a slightly more worrying thing about all this.
"Driverless" cars can't have accidents, they'll see obstacles and brake etc. Imagine the fun a cyclist, pedestrian or "manual car user" could have with swerving into the path of one knowing that it'll apply the brakes.

Obviously it's many years off yet but I can see a point where they have roads for autonomous cars only.

Although by then I should have a hoverbike. I distinctly remember Tomorrow's World telling me I could have a hoverbike. Or a jetpack.

posted by crazy-legs [484 posts]
4th December 2013 - 12:42

like this
Like (5)