Volvo aims to make 'crash-proof' car
Struggling Swedish-based car maker Volvo is aiming to be selling by 2020 cars that can drive themselves and avoid crashes.
Volvo is one of several companies investing large sums to develop the autonomous vehicles, despite the complex legal problems that need to be overcome.
"Our vision is that no one is killed or injured in a new Volvo by 2020," Volvo's head of government affairs Anders Eugensson said.
The company discussed its plans during a recent autonomous-driving event at a track in Hallered, Sweden.
It is preparing to launch in 2014 its first batch of autonomous vehicles capable of driving up to 50kmh, with the technology expected to be used initially in heavy traffic.
"We are convinced this is the future and we want to get there first," Marcus Rothoff, head of developing driver assistance technology at Volvo, said.
Much of the science behind Volvo's strategy was similar to that being developed by Google and General Motors - a network of cameras, lasers and sensors that monitored the road as a driver would.
Inside technology tracked the driver, including whether he was struggling to keep his eyes open, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The key ingredient, according to Volvo, was wireless Internet in all vehicles. By giving each vehicle on the road a common connecting point, cars could create a road train of vehicles talking to one another and mimicking each other's movements as if they were a team of horses.
"The car of the future will be just like the farmer's horse," Mr. Eugensson said. "The farmer can steer the horse and carriage but if he falls asleep the horse can still take him back home.
"And if the farmer tries to steer the carriage against a tree or off a cliff, the horse will refuse."
Volvo sold just 436,000 vehicles last year and was expecting fewer sales this year. It was bought by Chinese auto maker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group for US$1.3 billion in cash in 2010.
The Daily Mail said the biggest hurdle to introducing autonomous cars was not the technology, which was largely developed, but public acceptance and issues of who would be liable if a crash-proof car actually did crash - the driver or the manufacturer.
Moves were under way to amend international law, removing blocks on fully autonomous vehicles.
Volvo had 50 engineers working with automotive partners such as Ricardo UK on crash-proof car technology in recent years.
Prototypes had run thousands of kilometres in test drives on public roads in Spain and on the company's test track in western Sweden.
Volvo said a car train of self-driving vehicles would be ideal for lengthy motorway journeys. Not only could drivers make better use of their time, but the smoother journey would cut fuel consumption by 20 per cent.
Volvo is working on a road train commuter car system, which would allow lines of up to six cars to drive autonomously almost bumper to bumper, while the driver was able to attend to other matters, such as dozing or reading.
Each car's braking, acceleration and steering was controlled electronically by a lead truck driven by a professional driver.
Experts sad self-drive cars were potentially safer because they took the risk of human error out of motoring.