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Volvo Car Corporation intends to lead in field of autonomous driving technology; targeting the next-generation of consumers

Volvo Car Corporation intends to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving as the next major step forward in vehicle safety. Autonomous driving—the self-driving car—gives the human driver the ability safely to do something else besides drive, such as sending text messages or reading a book while the car drives itself. It will also likely be an important capability for attracting the next-generation of auto consumers, says Volvo Car Corporation President and CEO Stefan Jacoby.

The first focus areas in Volvo Car Corporation’s technology development are autonomous driving in slow-moving queues and, for the longer-term, road trains on motorways, as exemplified by the recently concluded SARTRE project. (Earlier post.)

Our aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and pioneering technologies that will reach the customers. Making these features reliable enough to use on public roads is crucial to boosting customer confidence in self-driving cars.

Hardly anyone thinks twice about being in an airplane that flies on autopilot. But being in a car that drives by itself while the driver reads a book is still quite a revolutionary thought for many people.

—Marcus Rothoff, Product Attribute Manager, Driver Assistance at Volvo Car Corporation

Steering, acceleration and/or braking automatically controlled by a vehicle that requires very little human interaction is already highly present in the modern transport society.

Recent studies show that almost half of the respondents would be comfortable using a self-driving car (Accenture 2011). Almost 50% of drivers aged 18-37 would definitely or probably buy a vehicle capable of fully autonomous driving (J.D. Power 2012).

One of the research conclusions is that younger consumers in particular are willing to pay for technology that can help manage distractions created by the urge to be constantly connected in the car too. Autonomous driving would create the desired possibility to safely send text messages, update Facebook status or read a book while driving.

The necessity for a successful carmaker to please the next-generation consumers was the main topic for CEO Stefan Jacoby’s presentation at the 2012 Automotive News Europe Conference in Monaco.

Teenagers look at cars with different, less traditional eyes than we, their parents, do. When we regard the driver’s seat as a symbol for freedom and mobility, they see the only place where they can’t be constantly connected. And many of them think that this constant connectivity is more important than having a driver’s licence and a car.

This view is an exciting challenge for Volvo Car Corporation. We must design intelligent cars that take over the driving while you focus on something else. Such as sending a text or communicating on Facebook. Personally, I am convinced that the majority of tomorrow’s car owners will not even dream of buying a car without autonomous driving possibilities.

—Stefan Jacoby

Other advantages to autonomous driving include the potential for zero accidents and injuries during autonomous driving, as well as a reduction in fuel consumption by up to 50% in certain situations, Volvo says. It also has the potential for shortening travel times by improving traffic flow.

Allowing the car to act automatically is crucial when moving toward the vision that future cars will not crash at all. Our present systems for auto braking, lane keeping aid and adaptive cruise control could be described as the first steps towards autonomous driving. Now, we are moving towards technologies with a higher degree of autonomous driving in normal traffic situations.

—Marcus Rothoff

Among the autonomous driving projects completed, under development or contemplated at Volvo Car Corporation include:

  • A support system that automatically follows the vehicle in front in slow-moving queues.

  • Road platooning, as exemplified by the European SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project. The SARTRE demonstration platoon included a lead truck followed by four vehicles driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h (56 mph)—in some cases with no more than a four-meter gap between the vehicles.

    The basic principle is that the following vehicles repeat the motion of the lead vehicle, says Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist at Volvo Car Corporation. Volvo extended the camera, radar and laser technology used in present safety and support systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control, City Safety, Lane Keeping Aid, Blind Sport Information System and Park Assist Pilot to achieve this.

    New features added to the vehicles included a prototype Human-Machine Interface including a touch screen for displaying vital information and carrying out requests, such as joining and leaving the road train; a prototype vehicle-to-vehicle communication unit that allows all vehicles within the platoon to communicate with each other; and advanced software to control the automated vehicles and the road train as a whole.

  • Self-parking cars, as in leaving a car by the entrance to an airport parking lot and letting it find a vacant spot itself.

  • Fully automated driving in enclosed areas.


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