Drive Me: Volvo Tweaks Script on Its Autonomous Play
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]
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