The limited-autonomy system, which relies on laser guidance, cameras, and GPS, will be distributed to Volvo customers — not test drivers — in Gothenburg in about two years’ time.
“It still requires that drivers not sit in the back,” Samuelsson says. Local authorities will be part of the test in order to start addressing the legal questions.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 off-road crash in Gothenburg was less dramatic than most tests, except for the part where the big new CUV took a bit of air after bouncing into an embankment. It suffered under-chassis damage, lost a few bits from the lower fascia, and blew all its airbags, but looked drivable.
Volvo’s City Safe feature, which warns drivers of a potential crash, also has been improved to flash a dashboard light, beep an audio warning, and apply the brakes to prevent from hitting a bicyclist or running down a pedestrian. The feature is standard across the model range. The company says it has made big improvements in pedestrian and bicycle recognition.
Vision 2020 is an admirable goal, even if you’re already growing tired of too much intervention of this kind. Volvo says there won’t be undue intervention so long as the driver is paying attention. The latest City Safe also keeps the brakes applied for an additional second if the system detects that the driver is trying to turn left into traffic too soon, ahead of an oncoming car. (Though most modern motorists seem overly careful in the way they wait for extraordinarily big traffic openings.)
Volvo is testing these systems with the help of a new, 900 million Swedish kronor (about $120 million) facility about an hour’s drive outside of Gothenburg. The developers of AstaZero — for Active Safety Test Area — are Chalmers University of Technology and Your Science Partners. Clients besides Volvo cars will include Volvo trucks, Mercedes-Benz, and Scania. The developers describe it as “the world’s first full-scale test facility,” featuring a 700-meter (0.4-mile), extra-wide multilane road to test emergency braking, an urban area in graphic wrapping to look like a section of Harlem in New York (below), and even some two-lane highways that the locals will be able to access and become part of traffic safety studies without knowing it. No doubt, Volvo’s customer-testers of the autonomy feature will be using these roads a lot in 2017.