It’s a big week for Volvo. The automaker just officially kicked off its Drive Me autonomous car project after rolling out its first partially self-driving XC90 SUV. It’s the first of a fleet of 100 XC90 research vehicles Volvo plans to have on the road soon.
The Drive Me pilot project is designed to eventually take researchers out of driver’s seat, and put the cars directly in the hands of real families. By collecting information from every day drivers, Volvo hopes to get a better idea of how normal people interact with its technology. The first SUVs will hit the road in Volvo’s home of Gothenburg, Sweden in early 2017.
The research vehicles start with Pilot Assist, available on its 90 series vehicles. But the Drive Me cars step it up a notch by adding hands-off and feet-off capability in special autonomous drive zones in test areas. Basically, each car will offer full auto-piloting under certain conditions on pre-assessed roads.
The cars are equipped with cameras and sensors. The drivers are monitored as well. Cabin sensors will track how the driver responds to the tech and how they do switching to manual driving. All the information gets saved in a computer below the rear cargo area. Volvo says feedback from participants will advance self-driving car development ahead of commercial introduction around 2021.
Safety continues to be priority one at Volvo. So, before Volvo hands over the keys to the research SUVS, its engineers are doing a bunch of safety tests to make sure they run 100 percent correctly.
London will join the Drive Me program next year. Interested cities in China also want in on it. Volvo says it plans to have a test city in China within the next few years. Self-driving S90s and V90s will join the test fleet by 2018.
This isn’t the only recent Volvo news on the self-driving front. Last month, the company partnered with Uber and Autoliv on another project to develop self-driving cars. They’ll have even more advanced technologies than the ones in the Drive Me project. So they won’t be limited to fully self-driving only on pre-assessed roads.