Drive Me: Volvo Tweaks Script on Its Autonomous Play

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Back in 2015, Volvo Cars reiterated that it would test hundreds of autonomous vehicles in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and China by 2018 as part of its Drive Me project. Using cars equipped with advanced autonomous technology, the initiative hoped to help Volvo understand how customers interact with self-driving cars.

However, the automaker appears to have tweaked that plan in a recent press release. Instead of families helping Volvo test new autonomous vehicles, they’ll help develop them by cruising around in well-equipped XC90s. While we can’t cry foul too loudly, Volvo has used highly suggestive language for the last few years. It previously claimed it would have “death-proof” cars on the road by 2020 and alluded to Drive Me using fully autonomous test vehicles — not commercially available models.

While getting feedback on the XC90 will — no doubt — be valuable for Volvo engineers, this isn’t exactly what we were expecting. Starting with two families from Gothenburg, Sweden, the automaker intends to include three additional families next year. From there it expects to expand the project to over 100 people “over the next four years.”

“Drive Me is an important research project for Volvo Cars,” said Henrik Green, senior vice President for the Volvo’s R&D. “We expect to learn a lot from engaging these families and will use their experiences to shape the development of our autonomous driving technology, so that by 2021 we can offer our customers a fully autonomous car.”

Missing from that statement, however, is any mention of fully autonomous features at launch. Perhaps we were too easily caught up in mobility hype, but we expected participants in Drive Me to have access to Level 4 SAE autonomy pretty quickly. We weren’t alone, either. Automotive News also seemed surprised that Volvo made changes since announcing the program.

Volvo says its reasoning for the change comes down to not wanting to rush into anything.

“On the journey, some of the questions that we thought were really difficult to answer have been answered much faster than we expected. And in some areas, we are finding that there were more issues to dig into and solve than we expected,” Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s autonomous driving program director told the outlet. “The development in sensor performance and processor capabilities is going so much faster than we expected in 2013. Because advancements are being made at such a rapid pace, we want to make this decision as late as possible.”

We suppose that’s as good a reason as any for the delay. Volvo also claimed that switching to electrical architecture has thrown up autonomous development roadblocks it couldn’t have possibly anticipated when Drive Me was being brainstormed. Either way, the company says it remains committed to bringing a self-driving vehicle to market by 2021. If it can meet that deadline, it will still be among the first automakers to do so.

[Image: Volvo Cars]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Vlangs Vlangs on Dec 12, 2017

    Have loved Pilot Assist 2, my 17 S90 came with it and upgraded my mother's 16 XC90 with it to. Don't see the hatred for the S90 anywhere other than this site (mainly from Baruth and the BnB xenophobes) compared it to damn near everything in it's class when decided a Fiesta ST was better suited for fun time than daily and it easily outclassed the bimmer/lexus/audi and matched the E400 in fit and finish and didn't require 25k in upgrades to get the Semi-Autonomous driving aides. T6 Inscription, there's no way I can imagine the "L" vin S90s to be shoddily made. Though if you're buying a T5 momentum value lot car I mean what do you expect? the base E300 isn't exactly "lux" either.

    • Conundrum Conundrum on Dec 13, 2017

      S90s for markets outside China weren't even made until mid June, so no doubt Baruth was talking cheap pricing on Swedish made ones. Just to compound the general ridiculousness of his argument. There is a fine article on an actual visit to the Lynk & Co factory in China yesterday on the Daily Kanban website. With photos. Baruth hates Schmidt, so probably wo't read it. I'd venture to guess there isn't an American car made in a more modern factory or with better tooling, and all the xenophobic look down your nose comments in TTAC "discussion" threads has become notorious for, just make me shake my head. Not buying Chinese I can understand if your mind works that way; doubling down by insulting all and sundry to do with Chinese manufacturing with know-nothing comments is of course what happens when lack of knowledge and fear takes over. Piling on for the sake of it. Then some hefty patriotic chest-thumping to make themselves feel good. The building of the factory, like the other two factories Geely has to make Volvos in China, was supervised by a Dutchman. If the USA is lucky, the Dutchman would have been chosen to supervise the building of the Charlotte SC factory, but he was busy.

  • Vanillasludge Vanillasludge on Dec 13, 2017

    I’m pushing 50 and if truly autonomous cars happen before I’m back in diapers I’ll consider it a big win. In the middle term the real benefits to this technology will be accident avoidance.

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