Volvo is working on making a driverless car. An “uncrashable” one.
Using technologies such as automated braking systems, lane departure warnings and vehicle to vehicle communication (V2V), Volvo’s technical, certification and engineering manager David Pickett said the company’s vision is that by 2020 no one will be killed or injured in the new Volvo.
And they’re already halfway there.
Pickett told Business Insider that on his way to work he drives without touching the brake or accelerator, except at traffic lights, comparing the experience to the way pilots fly planes.
“You know, no one actually thinks that when they jump in a plane that the pilots are actually flying it once it’s in the air,” he said.
“I’m using active cruise controls with radars and cameras. I set a gap of two and a half seconds to the car in front, it just follows.
“If it slows down or stop at a set of lights my car just slows down. And if the car in front accelerates I just press the resume button and it accelerates.”
Pickett says that beyond the technology’s safety benefits it also creates a better driver.
“You’re more relaxed and you’re actually more aware, especially if you’re doing long trips. It’s not as tiring,” he said. “It keeps the driver more alert. The more alert the driver is the less chance there is of having an accident.
“We’ve had some of these things in the market for a few years now so people are getting more and more used to this sort of aspect.”
In the US, over 90% of all crashes are a result of driver error. Volvo believes it can eliminate this statistic using its new technology.
Other advanced driverless systems, like the V2V communication, are still to come.
“It’s exciting that your car has just driven through black ice and it can communicate with cars behind you so that they are already starting to break before they get there. To be able to actually send that signal to four cars behind you is going to reduce the chance of nose-to-tail accidents and things like that.
“So there’s lots to benefits from car to car and car to infrastructure communication,” he said, but “that’s something that’s still in the development phases globally.”
As driverless technologies fast become a reality, there has been a growing a concern amongst the public about the safety of the features and a fear of relinquishing control of the car. But Pickett said it was a common reaction.
“To start off with it’s something that scares people a little bit,” he said.
“I think the way these technologies are actually coming out, gradually people just get used to it. When cruise control first came out people were thinking ‘Oh, I don’t know how I feel about not using the accelerator or the brakes and now that is just as common as electric windows in cars.”
One point Pickett wanted to make clear is that what Volvo is doing is very different to the driverless cars being made by Google or Audi.
“There’s different version of driverless cars. There’s the Google car which doesn’t have a steering wheel in it… and the car will be in control, and then there’s a car that will be able to drive itself but still have the driver in control, and that’s what Volvo is doing,” he said.
It’s about people trusting that the technology works, Pickett said, but because it goes against the natural instincts you develop as a driver, it takes some getting used to.
The development of these autonomous technologies will also free up drivers to perform other tasks in the car, Pickett said.
“When the cars come to the point where they are driven autonomously, the driver can expect to be able to do other stuff – checking the email or reading the paper.”
But car companies are yet to get there because of the legalities of the concept, he said.
“At present it is illegal for you to do it… [but] our answer is that the driver is still going to be in control.”
While it hasn’t hit Australian shores yet – some experts estimate it could be just five years from now – Pickett said the change in technology will be phased in gradually.
“It’s probably going to be something that will start rolling out. You’ve got to get it to a critical mass where it actually starts becoming a benefit a well,” he said, admitting: “I’m not sure when that will start coming into play.”
The Volvo driverless car is already on the road in Gothenburg, Sweden, as part of Volvos ‘Drive Me’ project. Over the course of the trial, the car manufacturer anticipates that 100 cars will be on the road by 2017. It will be the world’s first arena for self-driving cars in everyday driving conditions.
In October, Volvo Cars posted a 16th consecutive month of retail sales growth with global sales in China, Europe and the United States up 12.6 per cent compared to the same time last year.
Pickett recently shared his industry knowledge at the 26th annual ARRB conference, discussing the future of our cities and enabling driverless cars.
Here’s what we can expect to benefit from Volvo’s driverless car in the near future.
Vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure communication.
“If car has just taken a driver through black ice, it can communicate with cars behind you so that they are already starting to break before they get there. To be able to send that signal to four cars behind you is going to reduce the chance of nose to tail accidents and things like that,” Pickett said.
“If you don’t have an accident it’s not going to hold the traffic up. By reducing these little nose to tail accidents that is going to have a benefit to traffic flow.
“[But] that’s something that’s still in the development phases globally.”
Lane changing warning systems.
“Next year we’ll have the ability to see pedestrians in the dark and cross traffic lane changing. Where a car turns across the path of an oncoming car we’ll have technologies that will stop the car actually doing that – a braking function… and a rear collision warning system. So if the car is about to be run into from behind, the emergency brake lights and the hazard lights will start flashing on your car and applying the seat belt tighter to prepare in case you are hit.”
“As a real personal feeling, I find that if you get stuck in the traffic, the fact that the car will follow the car in front (means) you can pay attention and are more aware of what’s happening around you and you’re just less stressed.”
A lower insurance premium.
NRMA Insurance head of research Robert McDonald said depending on the system, vehicles with Autonomous Emergency Braking fitted as standard equipment will have a saving of up to 15% applied to their car insurance premium on their new policy or next renewal.
An improved driving experience.
“The improvement in your daily driving. It takes the mundane-ness out of the daily drive. The feeling of getting somewhere without being as tired or stressed because of the trip in.”
Pickett says from bumper-to-bumper in the city to a country road, it “enhances the pleasure of driving because of the ability of to switch it on and off as needed”.
360° car sensor
Made up of one cohesive detection system, from a number of discrete sensors installed around the car, the technology is able to provide a complete 360° view of the environment and perceive any potentially threatening objects that drivers would otherwise not be able to see.
Using cameras, radar, lidar and GPS, this framework has taken a big step in becoming a reality but is still in the development phase.
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