Volvo and a consortium of Swedish research institutions will test self-driving cars in street traffic in and around Gothenburg starting in 2017, they announced yesterday. The project begins next year with customer research and hardware development. It will culminate in a fleet of 100 cars that will alternate between driving themselves and allowing their human occupants to drive, depending on where they are.
Fall asleep at the wheel of the right prototype car and it will steer you around obstacles. That’s what Ford’s demonstration of an obstacle avoidance system at its proving ground near Lommel, Belgium, this week implies. But it won’t be ready for a long time. Ford took advantage of the attention its prototype drew to announce its full parking-assistance technology, which is mature enough that it might be in your next car and wins hands-down against the autosteering for clever advertising.
Both obstacle avoidance and the more mundane parking assistance are part of the larger trend toward greater autonomy in road cars, as IEEE Spectrum noted at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month. The technologies exist along a spectrum from the simplicity of 20th-century cruise control to features that take over momentarily from bad drivers to the sort of autonomy that would turn drivers into passengers, able to sleep or read an issue of Spectrum without worrying about traffic.
A fleet of cars and drivers whisks visiting journalists around the Frankfurt Motor Show’s sprawling, 144-hectare site. Judging by the number of exhibits of self-driving car technology this year, future visitors can expect their courtesy cars to lack drivers. It’s a matter of putting together many existing technologies in an affordable, safe system.
One piece of that future system nearly clobbered a two-dimensional cutout of a child last week on a fenced-off piece of asphalt outside Hall 10. There, Bosch employees led by Werner Uhler were demonstrating a stereo optical camera system Uhler says could be cheaper than combined radar and optical systems used for collision avoidance today. The device is mounted on the front window of a testbed car, adjacent to the rear-view mirror. As the testbed approached a parked car, Uhler, seated in the backseat, said, “We will drive along…and suddenly a child will turn up and we will brake.”