Driverless commuting is the here-and-now says Volvo

Volvo’s autonomous mission is to make Level 4 a here-today reality without the need for huge infrastructure investment.

Talking to TU-Automotive Anders Eugensson, director governmental affairs with the Volvo, he said both Drive Me autonomous driving projects in Gothenburg and London seek to show that its cars, specially adapted Volvo XC90s, can cope with real-world challenges.

He said: “It’s very exciting to be part of this movement of autonomous vehicles which could totally change the way we transport ourselves in the future.

“The more you think about it, the more possibilities and ways of developing this technology you can find. It could permeate through everything we do in life because it affects the way we are connected to other people and the way we approach our life and work. This could be part of the way we use our office hours because we can spend that time in the car making the best use of our work time.”

Eugensson said Volvo’s approach to its autonomous technology began by focussing on solving consumer problems.

He explained: “When we sat down and looked at this from the beginning we asked: ‘What is it that modern people are missing?’ And what we found is that we are all craving for time – we just don’t have enough time spend with family and friends. So what if we can save some of that time you lose sat in congested traffic and not being able to do other things?

“This technology could let us use that time by being connected for either work or lifestyle. In this way we can make people’s lives less complicated and make them less frustrated, more comfortable and placed in a good mood generally.”

Naturally, for a manufacturer with nearly 90 years of automotive knowledge to draw from, the team looked at driving situations most motorists would gladly hand over to an automated system.

Eugensson said: “We see autonomous vehicles as the way of the future because this will create that time in those frustrating situations. We know with the younger generation, the ‘digital natives’, are really concerned about being connected all the time and see driving as a distraction from being connected. And so for any carmaker, connectivity is vital and if you can’t offer this then you cease to be interesting to these people. So autonomous vehicles are a way to save time while having a safe ride.”

Safety has featured as one of Volvo’s major sales pitches backed up by the invention of the three-point safety belt whose patent it opened to all carmakers in 1959 to promote motoring safety.

“Safety is a big part of this because we know that more than 90% of all accidents are caused by human error,” said Eugensson. “Humans may be good at driving and keeping their attention levels up most of the time but we can’t keep up that attention all the time. Yet, the car can do this and can monitor everything all the time, never being tired or getting distracted.

“So it’s just a matter of making the car intelligent enough to make all those decisions. At the moment, we are not working on strictly A-to-B solutions but on how to hand time back to drivers when they are sat in congested traffic with nothing else to do than just moving slowly along with traffic all around them wishing they were somewhere else. However, when it is fun to drive, we allow the driver to enjoy that experience.”

Another major autonomous feature for the near future, said Eugensson, is driverless parking to solve many issues for urban car owners or users in car-sharing situations.

He said: “In parallel traffic technology, we are also developing autonomous parking – such as you drive up to your front door, where you live in an urban environment and you have no immediate parking, you take out your shopping then ask the car to park itself.

“This could be very important for the future where we get into car-sharing and having cars on demand. The problem with cars on demand today is that you have to go to where the car is parked and then you drive to where the car is dropped off then you have to take yourself to where you want to finally end up. Whereas, in future, the car will come to you, you drive to where you want to go, then the car takes itself away. That’s going to be a real game-changer for the future.”

On the here-and-now mechanics of real world testing of autonomous vehicles, Eugensson  said countries who have not ratified the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968, such as the US, UK and Spain, are in the driving seat to advance the technology.

Under Regulation 79 of the convention, autonomoussteering is allowed only up to 10km/h such as for parking manoeuvres.Above this speed, only the “corrective steering function” is allowed and no level of steering automation is permitted.

Eugensson said: “The regulators in Vienna on the working groups are people from different governments each with a different perception of autonomous driving sometimes with a lower knowledge of what autonomous driving is all about.

“Some will have no industries involving cars and have no reason to change or have any insight into the different questions that concern the automotive industry. So, from outside, it’s very easy to see that they may find somethings more scary than others. Whereas, if you have more knowledge you can other risks than you did at the beginning. That challenge is difficult for us.

“Regulation 79 really worries us. The regulators are a road block because they have trouble keeping up with developments.”

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