Self-driving cars have long been a part of many technology fans dream, allowing for more enjoyment and time during their long journeys to catch up on work and entertainment.
Volvo has long been a trailblazer in this space, and is investing heavily in the technology that will soon see its cars able to read and understand their surroundings better than ever before.
With an aim of getting self-driving cars out to consumers by 2017, the Swedish manufacturer is clearly leading the way when it comes to the technology, so TechWeekEurope sat down with them to find out more.
First off, Volvo believes that intelligent vehicles will be a safer proposition, and can help cut down on the amount of accidents on the road.
“We believe that self-driving cars have the potential to bring us to a road traffic system with zero fatalities,” Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s lead engineer on self-driving cars, told us.
“Safety is very important for us – it always has been and it always will be,” he added, noting that the company is now moving from the standard ‘passive safety’ provisions such as airbags to add in more safety features such as collision avoidance, which can be found in its latest XC90 model. Removing human influence by making cars drive themselves offers a great opportunity to make driving safer, Volvo believes, as people are often the top cause of crashes.
“It is this type of technology that will also bring us to the next era, when cars can drive themselves,” Coelingh says “once they can, we can make driving even safer.”
“The technology is really fascinating – but it’s not really about the technology, it is about giving back time to our customers,” he says, “driving a car is fun – but often it can’t be very fun.”
Coelingh notes that the car used to be a symbol of freedom back in the 1960s and 70s, when owning one allowed you the chance to go wherever you wanted – but this sensation often gets lost these days as our journeys are often hampered by traffic. So instead of feeling like you’re stuck in a metal box, self-driving car technology can make your vehicle “a really convenient space” where you can eat, work, or just enjoy your free time.
“If you can push a button and have the car drive itself, you can get back your freedom, you can spend your time on the things you want to spend your time on.”
So the question now is when will we see self-driving cars on the roads? Coelingh says that Volvo is “pretty far” along with developing such a vehicle, with its XC90 model the greatest step along so far.
The company is looking now to get its smart cars into public hands, so it can continue its research and discover just how people will use the vehicles. As Coelingh says, “we have a huge amount of questions, and we will find the answers.”
The issue appears to be one of trust, as although most people accept the experience of being driven by an intelligent vehicle, there is still an overbearing need for hands-on interaction, Coelingh believes.
“One of the key things for making a good self-driving car is trust, and we need to understand how to design self-driving cars that gives our customers the feeling of trust,” he says, ““If people trust a car, then it will be useful.”
“We think that the technology behind self-driving cars is so important for society,” he says, “We need to make this work, as the benefits are so huge.”
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