January 1 2017 promises to be an interesting day on the roads of Gothenburg, Sweden. It will mark the start of a two-year test scheme involving 100 fully autonomous – or self-driving – Volvos.
On that day, city locals caught up in the rush hour grind may very well cause a disproportionate number of traffic incidents by being distracted by the amazing self-driving cars they’re running alongside. But Volvo, being Volvo, will probably have thought of that. The long-term plan is for autonomous cars to make roads in Sweden – and around the world – significantly safer places to be by eliminating human error.
The test scheme, which has been created by Volvo but is supported by city authorities, road network stake-holders and the Swedish government, will be the first in the world to put autonomous cars into the hands of ordinary drivers, in amongst normal daily traffic, in significant numbers. It’s a bit of a landmark in the development story of the modern car. And Volvo gave me an idea what life will be like for the ‘drivers’ of those pioneering test cars yesterday, after a ride in one of its ‘driverless’ prototypes.
An S60 with one or two extra little boxes taped to the bodywork, this early development car primarily used only the hardware already fitted as part of Volvo’s existing active safety systems, together with some updated control software, for eyes. The finished test cars will be more advanced – although exactly how much more will depend on how much Volvo’s market research suggests that people are willing to pay for autonomous technology.