When it comes to autonomous cars, Volvo isn’t probably one of those that readily come to mind. And yet the car maker might be closer to that goal than you might think. In two years time, Volvo plans to have a fleet of 100 self-driving vehicles under its Drive Me program running down the Gothenberg’s highways. While the car’s redundancy and failsafe mechanisms might make it sound like a safer bet, there is one catch. Volvo’s cars will be available in Sweden only, at least initially.
To some extent, Volvo’s autonomous vehicle might sound like any other. It has a wide array of sensors, including radar, sonar, laser scanners, and optical cameras that give it a 360-degree view of its surroundings at all times. Add those to high-resolution 3D maps and GPS positioning and you’ve got the makings of a sound self-driving car. Volvo’s cars can and will also be operated manually. In fact, drivers are actually required to take manual control when entering or exiting highways and during bad weather. In most other cases, the driver is left free to check on his or her social networks.
What probably sets Volvo’s cars apart are two things. The first is that the car maker has looked to the aircraft industry to make their autonomous system more robust. In practice, this means that car’s system are fully redundant so that in the case of system, or driver, failure, the car will still be able to drive itself to safety.
The second unique feature relates to its limited availability. The Drive Me system actually features wireless communication between the car and Gothenberg’s traffic control. This system has two purposes. One, it gives the car real-time updates on traffic situation, allowing the system to make decisions in a split-second. Second, it allows the city to disable a car’s autonomous driving in case of weather problems or other circumstances. This will force the driver to take control of the car and if he or she isn’t able to do so within a specified amount of time, the car will pull itself to the side of the road and then stop.
That latter feature will most likely be harder to pull off in cities where no such infrastructure or system is in place, which is why Volvo is limiting the 100 cars to its home town. That said, personnel claim that the car maker is already in talks with other municipalities, but those will most likely come at a much later date.