Volvo has officially started the public autonomous driving experiment Drive Me, with the project’s first XC90 SUV test vehicle rolling out of the company’s special manufacturing facility in Torslanda, Sweden.
The vehicle, number 001, is the first in a series of autonomous cars that will eventually be handed to real families in Gothenburg to be driven on public roads. Volvo believes that the introduction of autonomous driving (AD) technology promises to reduce car accidents, free up congested roads, reduce pollution, and enable drivers to use their time in their cars more valuably. The company currently offers a semi-autonomous functionality called ‘pilot assist’ on its 90 series cars, which gives gentle steering inputs to keep the car properly aligned within lane markings up to 80mph (130km/h), without the need to follow another car. The Drive Me cars will add hands-off and feet-off capability in special autonomous drive zones around Gothenburg, powered by what Volvo calls the Autonomous Driving Brain.
Volvo is using a customer-focused approach on the Drive Me project, which sets it apart from other autonomous driving experiments. Instead of relying purely on the research of its own engineers, Volvo aims to collect feedback and input from real customers using the autonomous cars in their everyday lives. By choosing this user-focused approach, the company aims to further fine-tune its autonomous driving technologies and make its offering as relevant as possible to customers ahead of a commercial introduction around 2021. After rolling off the production line, the Drive Me customer cars will undergo a rigorous testing phase to ensure that the cars’ advanced AD technologies function exactly as they should. Once this testing phase is finalized, the cars will be handed over to the customers participating in the pilot.
The pilot project in Gothenburg is the first in a number of planned public trials with autonomous Volvo cars, with a similar project due to be launched in London next year, while Volvo is also assessing bids from interested cities in China to launch a Drive Me project there within the next few years. Volvo is also actively engaging in strategic partnerships in the area of autonomous drive technology. Last month, it launched a new partnership with ride-sharing company Uber, to jointly develop the next generation of AD cars. Within the last week, Volvo revealed it will set up a new jointly owned company together with leading automotive supplier Autoliv to develop next-generation AD software.
The Drive Me project is partly financed by FFI Strategic Vehicle Research and Innovation, and also includes Autoliv, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Chalmers University of Technology, Lindholmen Science Park, and the City of Gothenburg.
“This is an important milestone for the Drive Me project,” said Erik Coelingh, senior technical leader for active safety at Volvo Cars. “Customers look at their cars differently than us engineers, so we are looking forward to learning how they use these cars in their daily lives and what feedback they will give us.”