We are heading toward self-driving cars quicker than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. While it will clearly be some time before our highways are packed with driverless cars making their way to work, home, and parts beyond, there are glimpses of the future driving alongside us now.
It may be the Honda Civic self-aligned in the fast lane beside you, or the Ford Fusion Energi in your rear view mirror that stopped without driver assistance as traffic ground to a halt, then automatically paced your car as your lane began moving again. Or maybe the driver of the nearby Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid who misjudged how quickly traffic would stop, but escaped incident because of on-board systems that sensed a collision and automatically initiated emergency braking. And what about that Tesla Model S ahead that signaled and changed lanes seemingly on its own as its driver focused on something else?
These are real capabilities of vehicles on the road today. Not all models with autonomous technologies are ‘green’ cars, but assuredly many of them will be since there’s a natural convergence of autonomous driving technology and more efficient cars unfolding before us. This is only gathering momentum as a growing number of vehicles begin to feature systems like these.
Already, cars are increasingly equipped with an array of sensors, radar, and cameras to facilitate driver assistance systems that help deal with mundane chores like backing up safely and parallel parking. These same sensors and systems provide a foundation for even more sophisticated autonomous driving capabilities.
Several automakers are striving mightily to lead the field. Tesla is one of these, not only with the ability for its Model S to autonomously stay in its lane and with traffic flow, but automatically and safely change lanes with the flick of a turn signal when Autosteer is engaged. Cadillac is another with its upcoming Super Cruise.
Volvo is also at the forefront of this race to an autonomous driving future, in part because autonomous cars are considered much safer ‘drivers’ than humans and this aligns well with Volvo’s ambitious goal to eliminate traffic fatalities in its vehicles by 2020. Its XC90 plug-in hybrid already features some of the most advanced autonomous systems out there including Sensus Connect, Intersection Auto Brake, and Pilot Assist. Volvo has also created its Concept 26 autonomous driving interior for the XC90, the first such autonomous-focused concept interior built on a vehicle platform sold today. Volvo is taking a lead role in the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot project that will find 100 self-driving Volvos negotiating everyday driving tasks on 30 miles of public roads around Gothenburg, Sweden.
The specter of life with self-driving cars presents its challenges, not the least of which is consumer distrust of such systems and the concern we will lose the driving enjoyment and sense of freedom that automobiles have brought us since their invention. While we may be in a new era that finds technology impacting most facets of daily life – with this technology increasingly making its way to our cars – the love of driving remains a priority for many.
This is supported by a recent Volvo survey in which a vast majority of those asked said autonomous car technology should respect the love of driving and, in fact, autonomous cars should include a steering wheel even if they are capable of driving themselves. At the same time, most felt that technology in autonomous cars would make their travel time more productive. In other words, we want these worlds to coexist. There’s a lot to read into that …perhaps from the driver’s seat at 65 mph, no?