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Volvo Cars and the art of autonomous driving

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 19, 2017

Shifting gears Volvo is offering the world’s most ambitious and advanced public autonomous driving experiment through its Drive Me trial

Pilot project in Sweden is getting critical inputs

Google raised a lot of eyebrows years ago when it announced it was developing a self-driving car. At that time, few people took the technology seriously. Today, self driving cars are set to be a part of our lives.

The transformative technology is firing the imagination of automobile majors who are joining hands with tech experts to reboot their cars with the latest features.

While Volvo Cars has teamed up with Microsoft, Audi has paired with chip major Nvidia, and BMW with Mobileye. Over the next five years, General Motors, Audi, Ford, Tesla, BMW, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are tipped to deliver-self driving cars.

Volvo Cars, likewise, is creating one that is in tune with the customer and society.

“We are developing the world’s first large-scale, long-term test of autonomous cars,” said Tom von Bonsdorff, Managing Director, Volvo Auto India, in an email. “Volvo’s Drive Me trial starts this year, when 100 of our customers will drive XC90s equipped with the technology which will result in the IntelliSafe Autopilot, on Swedish roads.” The company offers a semi-autonomous functionality called Pilot Assist on its 90 series cars, which gives gentle steering inputs to keep the car properly aligned to lane markings and helps with parking.

“The S90, V90 and XC90’s Pilot Assist function can accelerate, brake and steer, keeping one at a set distance from the car in front, at speeds up to 130 kmph,” said Bonsdorff.

Drive Me will add “hands-off and feet-off capability in special autonomous drive zones around Gothenburg,” powered by what Volvo Cars calls the Autonomous Driving Brain.

Recently, the company struck a deal with Microsoft to put Skype conference call functionality inside select cars.

Other automakers are also shifting gears. Last year, General Motors bought self driving startup Cruise, and Nissan teamed up with NASA for its remote human support. NASA uses a similar hybrid troubleshooting process with its Mars rover.

To accelerate the development of autonomous technology, Volvo Cars has partnered with cab aggregator Uber to collaborate on sensor hardware. Zenuity is an autonomous software venture with Autoliv for automotive safety systems. The new company is expected to have its first driver assistance products available for sale by 2019 with autonomous driving technologies following shortly.

According to Bonsdorff, it is the customer-focused approach that sets Drive Me apart from other autonomous driving experiments. Not content to rely on the research of its own engineers, Volvo Cars will collect feedback and inputs from real customers using these cars.

“Autonomous cars are set to represent a radical shift in transport, and collaboration with government, customers and partners is essential to ensure that technology provides the maximum benefit to individuals and to society,” said Bonsdorff.

The Drive Me pilot in Gothenburg is the first in a number of planned trials. A similar initiative will be launched in London, even as the company is assessing bids from interested cities in China.

Globally, part-assistance automated driving aids such as collision detection braking and lane departure guidance are practically the norm though it is different in India.

Volvo Cars radar-based safety systems are offered as standard kit but till now “had been disabled for the Indian market, as per government norms”.

With the opening up of spectrum, however, the company has been able to roll out some hi-tech features.

“Radar-based safety applies brakes and averts collision if the driver is not alert. It works very well in typical bumper-to-bumper Indian traffic situations too,” said Bonsdorff.

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Published on January 19, 2017
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