Confirming an earlier announcement, Volvo said today it plans to offer 100 self-driving XC90 SUVs to the general public for use on a 50-kilometer (31 mile) fully autonomous route in Gothenburg, Sweden, beginning in 2017. Unlike other nascent systems already under test, the Volvo XC90s will not require their drivers to be alert, look out the windshield, or maintain some control over the vehicle during the limited drive route.
“Drivers do not have to supervise, and can do other things,” said Marcus Rothoff, director of Volvo’s program, called Drive Me. He spoke with other Volvo officials in a live webcast unveiling details of the system from Volvo’s headquarters in Gothenburg, Thursday.
The Drive Me versions of the 2016 Volvo XC90 will have seven radar sensors. One will look forward, with four corner radars monitoring close-range traffic, and two long-range radars monitoring the rear and parallel lanes. A tri-focal camera also will monitor traffic forward of the XC90s, and a cloud-based vehicle-to-vehicle positioning system will map the position of lane markers and guideposts and other hard objects.
Redundant systems maintain a vehicle’s safety, such as when sunlight blinds the forward-facing camera, Volvo said.
“With the map, we can determine exactly where the car is,” said Erik Coelingh, Volvo technical specialist in active safety.
Such mapping is key to the autonomous car technology Google is testing this year in its effort to push driverless cars into the mainstream. Google plans to remove steering wheels and pedals from its prototypes and test its prototype cars in Northern California traffic later this year.
The 2017 Gothenburg test comes with the cooperation of Swedish government officials, legislators, and city planners, Coelingh said. He called Volvo’s Drive Me, “feasible, affordable and producible within a relatively short time frame, and I think that’s unique in the industry.”
Volvo hasn’t determined exactly how it will choose 100 XC90 buyers in 2017 to have what it calls a “level three” autonomous system; one that takes driving over fully on limited-access Swedish motorways, largely without oncoming traffic, during a daily commute. The cars’ cabins will look pretty much like a conventional 2016 Volvo XC90 interior, which of course includes a navigation screen on the dashboard. Volvo will chose customers who live or work along the 50-km Drive Me route for the program.
If any of the 100 test cars are involved in an accident, the XC90’s data recorder will be able to determine the cause of the crash and whether the owner, or the autonomous system was driving, Volvo said.
One issue that Cadillac has discovered with its SuperCruise autonomous system launching as an option for the CTS in the 2017 model year is that snow and ice can make it difficult for a camera/laser system to read highway lanes. If there is snow, ice or heavy rain, the system will not allow drivers to switch to Drive Me autonomy, though Karl-Johan Runnberg, Volvo’s director of governmental affairs, said “there are very few snowy days in Gothenburg.”
The Volvo XC90s should “behave like really good drivers,” said Peter Mertens, senior vice president for research and development. “They will support our stated goal that in 2020, nobody should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo.”