Volvo – Integrating Self-Driving Cars into Real Traffic

With the recent advances in technology over the last decade or so, the seemingly futuristic concept of a self driven car is no longer just a fantasy – the technology is here, and it works.

However, there has always been one major problem stopping self-driven cars from being integrated into the real world – How will they work alongside real life, human controlled traffic?

Volvo has come up with a unique, complete system solution that will revolutionise the concept of autonomous driving – The Drive Me project. Dr Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President of Research and Development of Volvo Car Group said: “We are entering the uncharted territory in the field of autonomous driving. Taking the exciting step to a public pilot, with the ambition to enable ordinary people to sit behind the wheel in normal traffic on public roads, has never been done before."

The Drive Me Project is entering its second year and Volvo are hoping to achieve their aim of placing 100 self-driving cars on selected roads in Gothenburg by 2017.

The system works thanks to a complex network of sensors, cloud based positioning systems and intelligent braking and steering technologies – allowing the self-driven car to navigate the streets, and the other vehicles on the road. “Autonomous driving will fundamentally change the way we look at driving. In the future, you will be able to choose between autonomous driving and active driving. This transforms everyday commuting from lost time to quality time, opening up new opportunities for work and pleasure." Says Dr Mertens.

Building and demonstrating a working self-driven vehicle is not that difficult, the hard part comes in making sure that it is 100 percent safe to be used in every day scenarios – how will it adapt to pedestrians, roundabouts or cyclists?

“Making this complex system 99 percent reliable is not good enough. You need to get much closer to 100 percent before you can let self-driving cars mix with other road users in real-life traffic," says Dr Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist for Volvo Cars. “Here, we have a similar approach to that of the aircraft industry. Our fail-operational architecture includes back-up systems that will ensure that autopilot will continue to function safely also if an element of the systems were to become disabled."

In a self-driven vehicle, you can't assume that the driver will be prepared to take action in the unlikely scenario that an element of the system should fail. For example, should the brake system fail there would need to be a secondary brake system in place to step in, because you cannot account for the driver to be prepared to push the brake pedal.

Volvo has designed system to allow a self driven car to handle every on road scenario, everything from a casual commute to coping with heavy traffic in emergency situations.

Sensors, cameras and radars will build up a 3D digital map that will be updated in real time so that the self-driven vehicle will know exactly what is around it at all times, allowing it to navigate safely even during the busiest traffic. The self-driven vehicle will also be connected to The Cloud, providing it with up to the minute traffic updates to insure that it always takes the easiest route to the destination.

Nobody really knows how long we are from having completely autonomous vehicles become a part of our everyday lives, but if the one hundred car trial in Gothenburg goes to plan, it may be a lot sooner than we once thought.