100 Lucky Drivers in China Will Get to Test Volvo’s Self-Driving Cars
No one’s quite sure on just when people will be able to summon a self-driving car and go wherever they need to go. Too many variables—how the technology advances, how regulations are developed, what consumer acceptance looks like—remain for anyone to say, but that’s not keeping Volvo from offering a date: 2020.
The Swedes synonymous with safety want to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries in their cars by the end of the decade. Because airbags, automatic braking and other active tech can only do so much, Volvo plans to use automated driving to do it. Next year, it plans to see how that tech works in the real world when it puts 100 customers in robocars for an extended beta test in Gothenburg, Sweden. Today, the company announced it will do the same thing in China.
OK, sure, none of the details have been settled, according to Erick Coelingh, Volvo’s autonomous-driving chief. It’s unclear when, or where, the China trial will begin, but in a few years, and in one of the country’s many megacities is a good bet. Volvo’s looking for people who commute into the city via the highway. Those people will be selected to represent the diversity of Volvo’s customer base (and they’ll be required to stay awake and sober in the driver’s seat).
The highway bit’s important, because these aren’t fully autonomous vehicles. For the Gothenburg test, they’ll be XC90 hybrid SUVs, bulked up with the ability to handle the relatively simple driving environment devoid of tricky things like traffic signals, intersections, pedestrians, and cyclists. In Sweden, the cars’ autonomy will be limited to 30 miles of pre-approved roads. Everywhere else, the human’s in charge.
When the robot’s head honcho, it’ll be able to slide between lanes to pass slowpokes and make room for things like emergency vehicles or a pedestrian who shouldn’t be walking on the shoulder. It’ll be programmed to know when the human’s exit is coming up, and fully alert her that its time to take over.
China’s a logical spot for extending Volvo’s testing program. Chinese automaker Geely bought Volvo from Ford in 2010, and Coelingh says China is the brand’s biggest market right now. It’s got terrible congestion, brutal air pollution, and more than 200,000 traffic-related deaths each year.
“The challenges with the Chinese road transportation system are huge,” Coelingh says. “We think that self-driving cars will be part of the solution.” A system that’s always vigilant and has superhuman reaction times delivers obvious safety benefits. 100 cars on the road won’t make a difference in terms of generation traffic and pollution, but at least Volvo’s lucky guinea pigs will be able to read the newspaper, or Snapchat, or whatever from behind the wheel.
Follow this link: