Volvo R&D Chief Thinks Self-Driving Cars Will Make Us Safer

VolvoXC90-CitySafe-IntersectionVolvo, long known for its high safety standards, aims to further streamline its products for even safer travels — that is, it wants to delete the driver.

In an interview with Automotive News Europe, Peter Mertens, the company’s head of R&D, said Volvo would be doubling down in its development of self-driving vehicles.

“We’ve started testing what will become 100 completely self-driving cars on roads in and around Gothenburg, Sweden,” Mertens said. “I want to test real cars in real traffic, with real customers. We will collect miles of experience in real traffic. We can use that to learn and make the algorithm more robust, make it detect situations better now than before and get feedback from customers.”

Volvo’s current City Safety system, which is a combination of radar and visual sensors that can automatically brake to avoid both high-speed rear-end crashes and low-speed incidents, like pedestrians or animals, too. But Volvo’s upcoming XC90 full-size SUV will debut a new system called traffic-jam assist, which takes responsibilities farther away from the driver.

VolvoXC90-QueControl“[Traffic Jam Assist] helps you follow the car in front of you and make latitudinal and longitudinal moves. It is completely self-driven during a traffic jam. But since it is impossible now to completely monitor the whole world around you, the driver needs to be in the loop. If something unexpected in the system happens, the driver will naturally take over.”

Volvo’s system appears to operate similarly to the one recently debuted on the Mercedes-Benz S Class, which will “lock” onto the car ahead, and accelerate, brake and even steer gently to maintain the correct position. But, until it can be tested, there’s no word if Volvo will require the driver be touching the steering wheel to operate, something Mercedes-Benz felt was necessary in this highly litigious world.

“Our heritage is safety, and it always will be. That’s why we are putting so much effort in autonomous driving — to protect our position of being the safest brand.”

Mertens says making self-driving cars more intelligent will drastically reduce the “90 percents of accidents [that] are caused by human error” although he does feel that humans still need to be involved in the process. “We won’t want them being drunk, or reading the newspaper or doing stuff which completely distracts from what’s happening in traffic. There are things that computers can’t deal with.”

As for when self-driving cars will appear in real numbers? “I am an old motorhead, so maybe I am too conservative, but I don’t think autonomous driving is going to happen in the next 10 or 15 years. That’s not a big deal. People enjoy driving. They hate to drive in traffic jams. And we should protect them in situations that are really boring and become dangerous because you are not concentrating.”

Bottom line? “We shouldn’t take away the fun, and we shouldn’t pretend we’ll have everything fixed tomorrow.”

Automotive News Europe