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Volvo wants to build cars that drive themselves

John Day

John Day

Posted Sep 18, 2012
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Volvo hopes to take a leadership position in autonomous driving.

“Our present systems for auto braking, lane keeping aid and adaptive cruise control could be described as the first steps towards autonomous driving,” says Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s product attribute manager, driver assistance. “Now, we are moving towards technologies with a higher degree of autonomous driving in normal traffic situations.”

Volvo’s first focus areas are autonomous driving in slow-moving queues, and road trains on motorways. The car maker is developing a support system that automatically follows the vehicle in front in slow-moving queues. “It has considerable scope for making the driver’s life easier,” says Rothoff. “Our first generation of this advanced technology focuses on driving in queues at low speeds. The car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who is in charge. He or she can take back control of the car at any time.”

Volvo was the only car company participating in the European SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, recently completed. The project included a lead truck followed by four vehicles driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h with as little as a four-meter gap between the vehicles.

“The road train is the best of two worlds,” says Volvo technical specialist Erik Coelingh. “You can enjoy all the multi-tasking possibilities of public transportation behind the wheel of your own car.”

Volvo suggests that autonomous driving paves the way for more freedom behind the wheel by creating the possibility to do something else safely – send text messages or even read a book – while the car is driven autonomously.

“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,” says Rothoff.

Volvo cites studies indicating that nearly half of respondents would be comfortable using a self-driving car, and a similar percentage of drivers aged 18-37 would “definitely or probably” buy a vehicle capable of fully autonomous driving. Volvo concludes that younger consumers in particular are willing to pay for technology that can help manage distractions created by the urge to be constantly connected in the car. Autonomous driving would create the desired possibility to safely send text messages, update Facebook status or read a book while driving.

“Teenagers look at cars with different, less traditional eyes than we, their parents, do,” says Volvo Car Corporation President and CEO Stefan Jacoby. “When we regard the driver’s seat as a symbol for freedom and mobility, they see the only place where they can’t be constantly connected. And many of them think that this constant connectivity is more important than having a driver’s license and a car.”

Among other advantages, according to Volvo, autonomous driving holds potential for eliminating accidents and injuries, it can cut fuel consumption by up to 50%, and it can shorten travel times by improving traffic flow.

Would you buy a car that can drive itself?

auto braking, autonomous driving, Volvo, lane keeping, SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News (johndayautomotivelectronics.com) to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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