Volvo Car Group’s first self-driving Autopilot cars test on public roads around Gothenburg
Volvo Car Group’s groundbreaking project ‘Drive Me’ – featuring 100 self-driving Volvos on public roads in everyday driving conditions – is moving forward rapidly. The first test cars are already rolling around the Swedish city of Gothenburg and the sophisticated Autopilot technology is performing well.
“The test cars are now able to handle lane following, speed adaption and merging traffic all by themselves. This is an important step towards our aim that the final ‘Drive Me’ cars will be able to drive the whole test route in highly autonomous mode. The technology, which will be called Autopilot, enables the driver to hand over the driving to the vehicle, which takes care of all driving functions,” says Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist at Volvo Car Group.
What makes the ‘Drive Me’ project unique is that it involves all the key players: legislators, transport authorities, a major city, a vehicle manufacturer and real customers. The customers will drive the 100 cars in everyday driving conditions on approximately 50 kilometres of selected roads in and around Gothenburg. These roads are typical commuter arteries, including motorway conditions and frequent queues.
“That Volvo Cars’ hometown Gothenburg becomes the world’s first arena for self-driving cars in everyday driving conditions demonstrates both our technological leadership and Sweden’s dedication to pioneering the integration of self-driving vehicles,” says Erik Coelingh.
‘Drive Me – Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility’ is a joint initiative between Volvo Car Group, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg. The Swedish Government is endorsing the project.
“This public pilot will provide us with a valuable insight into the societal benefits of making autonomous vehicles a natural part of the traffic environment. Our smart vehicles are a key part of the solution, but a broad societal approach is vital to offer sustainable personal mobility in the future. This unique cross-functional co-operation is the key to a successful implementation of self-driving vehicles,” says Erik Coelingh.
Volvo Cars paves the way for improved safety by studying driver behavior in Chinese megacities
The China-Sweden Research Centre for Traffic Safety (CTS), with Volvo Car Group in a leading role, is now starting a close-up study of driving behavior in the Chinese megacities Beijing and Shanghai. The insight into how drivers handle these exceptionally busy traffic environments is an important part of Volvo Cars’ aim to develop safety systems that help drivers all over the world to avoid accidents.
“The development of all our world-leading safety technologies is based on knowledge from real-life traffic. The field operational test in China will provide us with a valuable insight into the behavior of drivers in an intense environment with a very high rate of accidents and casualties. The study will also document how our present safety and driver support systems work in a Chinese context,” says John-Fredrik Grönvall, Manager Traffic Accident Research at Volvo Cars Safety Centre.
The Midsize Naturalistic Driving FOT in China (China FOT) is a joint effort by Volvo Cars, the Chinese Ministry of Transport's Research Institute of Highway (RIOH), Tongji University, Chalmers University of Technology and the Swedish companies ÅF Technologies and Autoliv.
Four of the participants – Volvo Cars, RIOH, Tongji University and Chalmers University of Technology – are also partners of the recently opened China-Sweden Research Centre for Traffic Safety in Beijing, China.
“The respect for Volvo’s safety knowledge and the Swedish Vision Zero is growing here in China. The China FOT is the third traffic safety project we have initiated during the last year and, all in all, we now have 40 researchers involved. Our experienced Chinese partners RIOH and Tongji University inject unique knowledge about the local traffic conditions into our projects,” says Hans Nyth, Head of China-Sweden Research Centre for Traffic Safety.
Car-integrated cameras and sensors
The ten Volvo S60Ls in the China FOT project will be equipped with a number of cameras that monitor the driver and the surrounding traffic. Information is also collected from the car-integrated sensors in the safety and driver support systems. This means that every little incident and situation can be studied and evaluated. The drivers have signed a consent form, to agree to be filmed.
Starting in May 2014, a large number of real customers in Beijing and Shanghai will drive the cars during a ten-month test period. The collected material, approx. 5 terabytes of data from about 100,000 km of driving, will be analyzed during 2015.
So far, the most extensive field operational tests have been carried out in the United States and Europe. Volvo Cars was also one of the partners in the recently completed Euro FOT study.
“The baseline behavior of a driver is pretty much the same wherever you go in the world. However, the culture and the specific traffic environment are local factors that influence vital behaviors, such as how you take and avoid risks in intense city traffic. This is one of our main focus areas in the China FOT study,” says John-Fredrik Grönvall.
Twenty years since Volvo made its debut in the BTCC with the 850 Estate
It is now 20 years since Volvo marked its return to the racetrack – with an estate! The venture would lead to many successful years in the BTCC – including an overall victory in 1998. "When I signed up for Volvo and TWR around Christmas 1993, I didn't know about the estate plans," says Rickard Rydell. "If I'd known, I would probably have hesitated. It was lucky I didn't know!"
Volvo's Back on Track project was tangibly launched in April 1994, when two liveried Volvo 850 estate cars rolled up to the start line on the Thruxton track in southern England. It was the start of the season of the most prestigious standard car series, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Alongside Tom Walkinshaw Racing – TWR – Volvo had initiated a major investment in the class, and the idea of using estate cars was a great success right from the outset. They attracted a great deal of attention and challenged Volvo's image in a positive way, particularly in the UK. Volvo wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to combine practicality with pleasure!
Behind the wheel of one of the cars was 26-year-old Rickard Rydell who, despite his tender age, had a great deal of experience from karting, Formula 3000 and Formula 3. In the other car was his team-mate Jan Lammers, a 37-year-old Dutchman who had competed in various classes including Formula 1.
"It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed," says Rickard Rydell today. "It doesn't feel like it. But now looking back it is clear that we were focusing on the right class at the right time."
TWR, which had been Volvo's main competitor in the European Championship series during the 1980s when the 240 Turbo was competing against the Rover SD1, had now been contracted for three years and was responsible for the technical development of the racing car. Volvo would be responsible for technical support, marketing and PR.
The decision to compete with two estate cars was taken several months before the start, but was kept secret until the last moment. When the news was released, many thought it was a joke. A large estate is not an ideal track car – with a lot of weight behind the rear axle and a higher centre of gravity, it is harder to get around the corners than a saloon.
"But the aerodynamics of the estate were slightly better than the saloon," says Rickard Rydell. The deciding factor, however, was that the estate would attract more attention.
According to the FIA class 2 regulations, the competition cars had to be based on a production model. The appearance of the body could not be changed, although to make the races close and exciting, the engine cylinder volume was restricted to two litres, the maximum engine speed to 8,500 rpm and the minimum weight to 950 kg for front-wheel drive cars. Supercharging was not permitted in any form.
Volvo and TWR used their five-cylinder engine as a basis, which in the 850 Turbo had a 2.3 litre volume and produced 225 hp. In the racing version – with no turbo and with a 2 litre volume – it produced around 290 hp. The five speed manual transmission in the standard car was replaced with a six speed sequential transmission. Volvo was the first team to incorporate a catalytic converter in its cars – a feature that was soon to become mandatory according to regulations for the class.
"We hadn't had time to test the car on the track before its launch at Thruxton on 4 April," says Rickard Rydell. "Jan Lammers and I had been able to drive a few hundred metres at the entrance to TWR's development workshop, but that was all!"
From the outset, the first season was designated a trial year for the drivers, team and cars, and they didn't expect to be near the front of the standings. As a result, they could also treat themselves to the PR stunt of driving an estate.
"The Volvo 850 estate was by far the largest car in the series," explains Rickard Rydell. "Our competitors, who were taking part largely to strengthen their sporting image, were not pleased about having to compete with an estate. There were a few taunts from other drivers – but that was no problem. To wind them up, in one heat we drove with a large stuffed collie in the boot during the parade lap!"
When the series drew to a close after 21 heats, at Donington Park on 21 September 1994, they could look back over a very successful season from a public perspective – even though Volvo only finished in 14th place overall.
"We had learnt an enormous amount during the season, and developed the car continually," says Rickard Rydell. "Our best finish was fifth place at Oulton Park, although there were more column inches written about us than about any other team!"
As early as the following year, the results improved significantly, and Rickard Rydell came in third place overall in the championship, and repeated that success in 1996. However, they only drove the 850 estate during the first season, switching to the saloon model in subsequent years. Even though an estate body enjoys better natural downforce at the back than a saloon, the option of an additional spoiler at the rear was introduced in 1995. This was of no benefit on an estate, although on a saloon body it could make a significant difference. Volvo changed to the S40 in 1997, and Rickard pinched fourth place, before going on to win the entire series in 1998.
Volvo was definitely back on track!