Self-Driving Cars — When? (Maybe 2017)

A recent update report from C/NET (click HERE) summarizes amazing progress completed by Volvo on its efforts to produce (and sell) a “level 3” self-driving car by 2017.  It’s ultimate goal is to produce a “nearly uncrashable car” by 2020.

A “level 3” car can navigate along a designated road by itself with a human pilot in the driver’s seat “just in case”.  A “level 4” car is so completely automated that a human pilot is not required (think about curling up in the back to take a nap, etc.)

Of course, many people are not sure they’d be ready to yield so much trust to an Autonomous Vehicle (AV).  So why are so many car manufacturers pushing forward on this concept?  There are probably as many reasons as design teams, but as reported in the C/NET article, for Volvo it is all about safety and it’s desire to see a crash free world:

“Human error is behind almost all crashes,” Anders Eugensson, Volvo Cars’ director of government affairs said. It’s at least partly responsible 95 percent of the time, either thanks to negligence (drunk driving, distracted driving, falling asleep, etc.) or simply because a driver failed to avoid a preventable accident. If you can eliminate driver error you can eliminate nearly all accidents.

According to C/NET, Volvo has a head start towards its production model, level 3 AV:

Volvo already manufactures cars that have all the laser, radar, sonar, and visual sensing equipment needed for autonomous driving. It makes up the company’s City Safety program, currently available in the US as part of a $2,100 technology package. A forward looking camera and laser scanner are built into a pod on the windshield, tucked behind the rear-view mirror, while a radar system lives in the nose, hidden beside the company’s unapologetically masculine logo.

The sensor package that enables City Safety is just the latest of a long list of safety innovations that reach back to the beginning of the company. Laminated glass, three-point seatbelts, side-impact airbags, whiplash-preventing headrests… all things that Volvo invented or adopted as standard equipment well before the rest of the industry.

Of course, Volvo’s team acknowledges that there is a substantial (but not insurmountable) gap between deploying a level 3 and level 4 production AV.  In fact, they estimate that an additional two decades’ worth of work will need to take place.  Still, they’re on a mission — to reduce crashes.

But what if a crash does happen?  Who would be responsible?

Who’s at fault when a self-driving car crashes? While all the other manufacturers are busy shrugging their shoulders, Volvo has made its position on this quite clear: when the car is being manually driven, the driver is at fault in an accident. But, if the car is in autonomous mode and causes a crash, Eugensson said Volvo will take responsibility. “It will be difficult to sell if the driver is still liable. It gives a false promise.” One needn’t be a talking lizard to know this should result in cheaper insurance premiums.

If you’re still interested in learning more about AV technology, we’ve published multiple posts about this, here at our blog site — just use the search function located at the top of the page.

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