Volvo Embraces Autonomous Vehicles

10/26/2012

Your car could probably drive itself, technologically speaking. The technology exists for autonomous vehicles that can navigate on roadways without much input from the “driver.” Whether this type of technology will actually be hitting the highways anytime soon is less certain. But car makers are preparing for the possibility.

In September, members of IEEE, www.ieee.org, a professional technology organization, selected autonomous vehicles as the most promising form of intelligent transportation. The organization also predicted that these vehicles will account for up to 75% of the cars on the road by the year 2040. But it remains to be seen whether consumers and governments will respond favorably to driverless cars on the road.

However, many new vehicles are being designed with some autonomous characteristics, even if they aren’t full-fledged driverless cars. Volvo, www.volvocars.com, recently demonstrated a new traffic jam assistance system. It’s designed to cut down on the stress of driving in heavy traffic. The car will automatically follow the vehicle in front of it in slow-moving traffic of up to 50 km/h. Volvo says the system will be ready for production in 2014.


The driver is still in control and has to activate the feature by pressing a button. The feature evolved from Volvo’s current Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Aid technology and it allows the engine, brakes, and steering to automatically respond.

According to Volvo, autonomous driving is a major focal point for the company. “Making these features reliable and easy to use is crucial to boosting customer confidence in self-driving cars,” says Peter Mertens, senior vice president of research and development for Volvo Car Corp.

To that end, Volvo is also lobbying for a federal regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles. The company recently released a statement urging legislators to consider the technology. Mertens says Volvo is pushing ahead with the systems, “but the legal situation for this technology still remains unclear. We want to address this by supporting efforts to legalize testing of autonomous systems as well as initiating a constructive co-operation with policymakers.”

Research shows at least some drivers are interested in an autonomous vehicle. J.D. Power and Associates, www.jdpower.com, conducted a study on the subject, and results showed 20% of vehicle owners “definitely would” or “probably would” purchase a vehicle with autonomous driving mode if it were available, after hearing an estimated market price of $3,000. Before people learned of a possible price, 37% said they were interested.

Of course, Volvo isn’t the only company working on these technologies. Most automakers have something in the pipeline, and Google has been vocal about its work with autonomous vehicles, including models that have traveled the highways already. If consumers can warm to the idea of a driverless car, automakers will be ready to provide it.

To learn more about connected vehicles, check out Connected World magazine’s Connected Car of the Year awards. The awards highlight the connected car, and the second annual list of winners will be announced in the February/March edition of the magazine.





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