How Volvo Plans to Make its Cars “Deathproof”

In 2007, Volvo announced its lofty goal of creating vehicles that could avoid all circumstances that would cause serious injuries to its passengers. Since that announcement, it has been working hard to make good on what sounds in our era like an impossible promise.

For example, the Swedish-based auto manufacturer is readying itself for the release of a fleet of 100 driverless cars in China’s city streets. According to Volvo, the challenege constitutes its “most advanced autonomous driving experiment.”

s90And the challenge is significant not only in terms of Volvo’s modest advancements in driverless technology; the release stands out in autonomous vehicle history in that no other car company has attempted to test this many self-driving cars simultaneously on real city streets. Although many different car manufacturers have been competitive in the race towards vehicle autonomy, Volvo is unique in this way. Volvo even raises the stakes one level further in that it will allow everyday users to ride in the vehicles as they are being tested.

Volvo recently announced that it is seeking out Chinese citizens to participate in the trials conducted on its fully autonomous XC90 model, which will take place on fully public roads.

That said, these tests may not occur as soon as Volvo is suggesting. In fact, according to Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s senior technical leader for safety and driver support technologies, the exact date of the trial has yet to be determined. The only clue as to the approximate time of tests lies in the fact that the trials in China fall under the larger umbrella of Volvo’s DriveMe program, which will also test 100 driverless Volvo models in Gothenburg, Sweden startingĀ inĀ 2017.

“It’s important we work with ordinary customers, real people,” stated Coelingh. “It’s not enough to just have test engineers driving cars around on a track- we want to see how people use a self driving car, do they feel comfortable, do they feel safe.”

Regarding the 2020 initiative, Coelingh stated that “no one should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo vehicle” four years in the future.

According to Coelingh, the DriveMe challenge is an example of Volvo’s interest in taking a step towards “a truly automated car where the driver can do something else.”

beijingVolvo has been testing semi-autonomous features for its more current vehicles as well. The latest Volvo S90 comes with Pilot Assist, which allows the vehicle to navigate autonomously at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

Volvo plans to test its cars exclusively on roads they’ve chosen and mapped out in advance. Volunteers will only be eligible to lease a car and take part in the testing if their regular commute lies on those particular roads.

Unlike Google’s latest smart cars, the XC90 will come equipped with the same old-fashioned steering wheel. Test drivers will navigate the car themselves when on unmapped roads and be asked to give up control of the vehicle upon entering a mapped road.

Coelingh stated that one of the most important aspects of testing an autonomous car was forcing it through trial periods in different countries:

“If you want to have self-driving cars available all around the world, we will have to understand the exceptional situations from around the world,” he explained. “If a self-driving car works well in Gothenburg that doesn’t mean you can safely drive the car in Beijing or in London.”

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