Autonomous Volvos set to invade London in 2017

Published: 27 April 2016

► New ‘Drive Me London’ scheme revealed
► Placing 100 autonomous cars in London
► Data recorded will be used to improve tech

Motoring in the capital’s centre could get a whole lot more interesting next year, thanks to the planned introduction of up to 100 autonomous Volvos.

In an effort to speed up the development of self–driving cars, Volvo is pushing ahead with a large-scale autonomous driving trial in the UK’s capital.

The company’s trial, called ‘Drive Me London’, will begin in 2017. It entails numerous semi–autonomous cars being used by real families, helping deliver data and feedback that is more useful and realistic than that recorded in special test facilities.

A whole host of information will be logged, and incidents or issues of noted, and this will be used to improve the performance and behaviour of autonomous cars in real-world conditions.

In 2018 the scheme will expand to include up to 100 autonomous cars, which Volvo claims will make it one of the largest UK trials of its kind.

Why is Volvo so keen on autonomous tech?

The programme forms part of Volvo’s plan to ensure that no one is killed or seriously injured while driving one of its cars by the year 2020. A bold, seemingly impossible, claim – but an admirable one, nonetheless. 

‘Autonomous driving represents a leap forward in car safety,’ said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars. ‘The sooner AD cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved.’

Reputedly, autonomous cars can reduce the number of accidents by up to 30 percent. Currently, figures suggest that 90 percent of accidents at the moment are as a result of drivers making mistake or being distracted. Autonomous cars won’t get distracted, but a considerable amount of work – one reason for this trial – is required to ensure they behave and react as expected on public roads.

It’s not difficult to foresee a future where ‘manual’ cars are eventually banned from the road, however, as a result of autonomous tech not being fully able to deal with any unexpected manoeuvre by the owner-driven car – unless vehicle-to-vehicle communications improve and expand at a vast rate of knots.

Are there other plus points to this tech?

Volvo’s also keen to see the tech made viable as a result of its potential ability to ease congestion and save time. Cutting travel times and reducing jams will also lower pollution levels, which would prove beneficial in urban areas like central London.

‘There are multiple benefits to AD cars,’ added Samuelsson. ‘That is why governments globally need to put in place the legislation and infrastructure to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help.’

Otherwise, there are still several other hurdles to overcome – including what an autonomous car will do when faced with the choice of injuring its driver in a collision, or colliding with bystanders. Unsurprisingly, it’s a question that few are rushing to answer.

A fleet of autonomous Volvos will also be undergoing trials in Gothenberg, in 2017.

Read CAR magazine’s Volvo reviews here

By Lewis Kingston

Formerly of this parish. Inveterate car buyer and seller; currently owner of a '68 Charger project car