Volvo to Test Self-Driving Cars in Traffic

Up to a 100 cars could weave between human-driven cars and the moose of Gothenburg, Sweden

2 min read
Volvo to Test Self-Driving Cars in Traffic
Self-driving cars use an array of multi-band sensors to detect traffic threats

Volvo and a consortium of Swedish research institutions will test self-driving cars in street traffic in and around Gothenburg starting in 2017, they announced yesterday. The project begins next year with customer research and hardware development. It will culminate in a fleet of 100 cars that will alternate between driving themselves and allowing their human occupants to drive, depending on where they are.

The Swedish initiative has the support of Gothenburg's city authorities. U.S. regulators are also working on how to handle self-driving cars. Cities stand to benefit from reduced traffic and, if self-driving cars join car-sharing schemes, less demand for parking. US regulators have not yet indicated how they will handle self-driving cars, but this Swedish announcement suggests one way of easing self-driving cars into the traffic flow: partial access. Only certain roads will be designated for the Gothenburg test, according to Volvo.

That may seem restrictive compared to Google's self-driving vehicles, which have clocked over 160 000 kilometers on a wide variety of U.S. roads, but the restriction reflects the limitations of self-driving cars today. Despite a proliferation of sensors that allow cars to see further and in more bands of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans, the computers that analyze that sensory data can still have a hard time distinguishing between a cardboard cutout and a human child or responding to unanticipated scenarios. Some parts of a commute are simpler than others, though, and car companies in North America, Japan, and Europe are investing in systems to take over during those driving regimes.

They are also investing in safety features that will work with human drivers, such as Ford's  emergency autosteering feature, which will one day be useful in self-driving cars. Volvo's next model of car, the XC90, will have self-parking and some platooning features. Like other carmakers working on self-driving cars, Volvo is breaking the problem down into smaller pieces.

Since the Gothenburg test will involve switching between self-driving and human driving, it should help Volvo explore the issue of handing control back to the driver. It will also force them to deal with another question that worries BMW's head of driver assistance and perception  "The great problem is how can we handle critical situations where there is not enough time to give back [control] to the driver? " he said in an interview last month.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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