Self-driving vehicles will allow drivers to focus on other tasks, such as making phone calls to clients, without compromising safety. Photo: Volvo Cars.

Self-driving vehicles will allow drivers to focus on other tasks, such as making phone calls to clients, without compromising safety. Photo: Volvo Cars.

One hundred self-driving Volvo cars are slated to participate in an upcoming autonomous driving pilot project that will use public roads in and around Gothenburg, Sweden.

The project will get underway in 2014 with customer research and technology development, as well as creation of a user interface and cloud functionality. Project leaders expect the self-driving cars to hit public roads by 2017, Volvo Cars said. The vehicles – developed on the automaker’s upcoming Scalable Product Architecture -- will maneuver autonomously through everyday driving conditions.

The architecture is prepared for the continuous introduction of new support and safety systems all the way to technologies that enable highly autonomous drive, Volvo said. The first SPA model will be the Volvo XC90, set to debut in 2014.

The pilot project is a joint effort involving Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg. This initiative, dubbed “Drive Me – Self-driving Cars for Sustainability Mobility,” will focus on pinpointing the societal benefits of autonomous driving and on positioning Volvo and Sweden as leaders in developing the technology.

“Autonomous vehicles are an integrated part of Volvo Cars’ as well as the Swedish government’s vision of zero traffic fatalities,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Car Group.  “This public pilot represents an important step towards this goal. It will give us an insight into the technological challenges at the same time as we get valuable feedback from real customers driving on public roads.”

The pilot will involve 50 kilometers (31 miles) of selected roads in and around Gothenburg. These roads are typical commuter arteries that can get congested during rush hour.

“Our aim is for the car to be able to handle all possible traffic scenarios by itself, including leaving the traffic flow and finding a safe harbor if the driver for any reason is unable to regain control,” explained Erik Coelingh, technical specialist at Volvo Car Group.

The project will focus on such topics as:

  • How autonomous vehicles bring societal and economic benefits by improving traffic efficiency, traffic environment and road safety
  • Infrastructure requirements for autonomous driving
  • Typical traffic conditions suitable for autonomous vehicles
  • Public confidence in autonomous vehicles
  • How surrounding drivers interact smoothly with a self-driving car.

The project’s vehicles will be capable of handling all driving functions at the driver's discretion. The driver will be available for occasional control -- but with a comfortable transition time.

The project also includes fully automated parking, without a driver in the car. This allows the driver to walk away from the car at the parking entrance while the vehicle finds a vacant spot and parks by itself.

“Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users,” Coelingh said.