Volvo takes the next leap
Volvo to integrate self-drive cars in real traffic
VOLVO Cars presents a unique, complete system solution that makes it possible to integrate self-driving cars into real traffic, with ordinary people in the driver’s seat. The solution was presented last week via an interactive, online press conference.
“We are entering uncharted territory in the field of autonomous driving,” said Dr Peter Mertens, senior vice president of research and development at Volvo Car Group. “Taking the exciting step to a public pilot, with the ambition to enable ordinary people to sit behind the wheel in normal traffic on public roads, has never been done before.”
As the Drive Me project enters its second year, Volvo Cars is moving rapidly towards the aim of placing 100 self-driving cars in the hands of customers on selected roads around Gothenburg by 2017. The public pilot, a one-of-a-kind collaboration between legislators, transport authorities, a major city and a vehicle manufacturer, is a central component of Volvo Cars’ plan to achieve sustainable mobility and ensure a crash-free future.
Based on an extensive analysis of potential technical faults, Volvo Cars has designed a complete production-viable autonomous driving system. The key to making this leap is a complex network of sensors, cloud-based positioning systems and intelligent braking and steering technologies.
“In the future, you will be able to choose between autonomous and active driving,” said Mertens. “This transforms everyday commuting from lost time to quality time, opening up new opportunities for work and pleasure.”
Volvo Cars’ autopilot system is designed to be reliable enough to allow the car to take over every aspect of driving in autonomous mode. The technology advances a crucial step beyond the automotive systems demonstrated so far since it includes fault-tolerant systems.
“It is relatively easy to build and demonstrate a self-driving concept vehicle, but if you want to create an impact in the real world, you have to design and produce a complete system that will be safe, robust and affordable for ordinary customers,” said Dr Erik Coelingh, a technical specialist at Volvo Cars.
The main challenge is to design an autopilot that is robust for traffic scenarios as well as for technical faults that may occur. It cannot be expected that the driver will be ready to suddenly intervene in a critical situation. Initially, the cars will drive autonomously on selected roads with suitable conditions. For example, without oncoming traffic, cyclists and pedestrians.
“Making this complex system 99% reliable is not good enough. You need to get much closer to 100% before you can let self-driving cars mix with other road users in real-life traffic,” said Coelingh.
“Here, we have a similar approach to that of the aircraft industry. Our fail-operational architecture includes back-up systems that will ensure that autopilot will continue to function safely, also if an element of the system was to become disabled.”
For example, the probability of a brake system failure is very small, but a self-driving vehicle needs a second independent system to stop the vehicle, as it is unlikely that the driver will be prepared to press the brake pedal.
On the road, the complete technology solution will handle even the most complicated scenarios, from smooth commuting to heavy traffic and emergency situations.
“Just as good drivers would do, potentially critical situations are approached with sensible caution. In a real emergency, however, the car reacts faster than most humans,” said Coelingh.
When autonomous driving is no longer available — due to exceptional weather conditions, technical malfunction or the end of the route has been reached — the driver is prompted by the system to take over again. If the driver is incapacitated for any reason and does not take over in time, the car will bring itself to a safe place to stop.
In addition, Volvo Cars expects that autonomous driving will cut fuel consumption. The technology could also improve traffic flow as well as open up possibilities for urban planning and more cost-efficient investments in infrastructure.