GOTHENBERG, Sweden -- Volvo is inching closer to having 100 self-driving cars on the road in 2017, and today is giving us a bit more information on exactly what will make those cars go. Or more specifically, what keeps them going safely even when the drivers are reading the paper or, more likely, checking in on Facebook.
Volvo calls the program Drive Me and it will begin with that fleet of 100 cars, available only to residents here in the automaker's home town. The cars rely on arrays of sensors to provide autonomy on Gothenberg's highways, though drivers will need to pilot their cars onto and off of those highways, and also take over in the case of inclement weather.
The cars rely on a series of systems, many of which are already available in production Volvos today. However, far more advanced computers within the car aggregate all that data to keep everything on-track. Those systems, and indeed most other components in the car, are fully redundant, so even in the case of a system failure the car will still drive itself. Volvo says it took inspiration from the aircraft industry in adding fall-backs wherever possible.
Numerous sensors, including radar, sonar, laser scanners and optical cameras will continually look 360 degrees around the entire car. This information enables the car to identify real-time obstacles while also reading things like road markings and speed limit signs. All that augments a high-resolution 3D map and GPS positioning, while a wireless vehicle-to-infrastructure system enables the car to get real-time updates from Gothenberg's traffic control.
In the case of bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances, the town of Gothenberg can disable the autonomous functionality of these cars, at which point driving duties will fall back to their human occupants. Should the driver not be able to take over the wheel in a timely manner, the car will automatically pull to the side of the road and stop somewhere safe.
Again, Volvo plans to have 100 of these autonomous cars on the roads around Gothenberg in 2017. That's a limited program, but when I visited Sweden last year for, Volvo personnel weren't shy in saying they were already in discussions with other municipalities worldwide.
Certainly, autonomy on the highway is less exciting than punching in a destination and waking up when you get there, but when it comes to something as important as driving safely, taking your time seems like the smart way to go.