Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the potential to cut road accidents dramatically, while reducing congestion and fuel usage at the same time. A recent report said the U.S. could save close to half a trillion dollars with a full fleet of AVs, simply because computers don't get drunk or fall asleep behind the wheel.
A project in Sweden is demonstrating how AVs are set to become a reality. Volvo plans to release 100 AVs on roads near Gothenburg, the country's second largest city. Its "Drive Me" project is meant to demonstrate the societal benefits of autonomous driving, point out situations well-suited for AV use, and show what sort of infrastructure might be needed once we have thousands on the highways.
The first AVs are due in 2017, based on Volvo's XC90 model, which debuts next year. Volvo will begin testing the "user interface and cloud functionality" in 2014.
"The self-driving technology used in the pilot allows you to hand over the driving to the car when the circumstances are appropriate," Volvo president Håkan Samuelsson wrote in a press release. The trial will see when drivers want control of the wheel and when they are happy giving it up, and what sort of safety measures might be needed if they're unable to regain control.
The carmaker claims "Drive Me" is the first large pilot in the world, though most manufacturers (and Google) are working on AVs. Volvo is also collaborating on some electric road ideas—where electric cars are continuously connected to a bar in the surface, or with a line overhead. Looks like Volvo is trying to cover a few bases.