Volvo well on the road to autonomous driving

Volvo has made great strides in just two years on the road to autonomous driving.  The first version of Pilot Assist was seen in the new XC90 in 2015. The technology was developed by Volvo Car which is now owned by Geely Holding.

Brian Joss – This version was only capable of controlling the steering at speeds up to 50 km/h, with clear lane markings visible, and a lead vehicle. So in essence it was good for traffic jams only. It was also only available as an optional extra on the XC90.

This then evolved into the current version, which became a standard feature on all XC90 models in  2017, and subsequently the rest of the 90 cluster including the S90, the one I drove (The Gremlin, July 18), where I left readers with the impression that Geely created the technology. This is not correct. Volvo developed it.

Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO, Volvo Car Group: moving forward. Picture: Quickpic

This second-generation of Pilot Assist upped the speed range to a maximum of

130 km/h and no-longer required a lead car – so now you can use it at highway cruising speeds and not only in traffic jams.

The system utilises radar to manage the following distance to other vehicles, and a camera to detect the painted road markings in order to provide steering assistance. One of the reasons I didn’t try it was because where I was driving there were road works and in other places the white lines were barely visible. When I get another Volvo, I will put the Pilot Assist to the test.

Volvo said the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive is a stepping-stone on the way to fully autonomous cars. The second generation of Pilot Assist, extends the scope of this semi-autonomous function to not only include low speed traffic jam situations but also include general driving situations on motorways with proper road markings.

The driver can override the system at any time by using either the brake pedal, accelerator pedal or steering wheel. The turn indicator can be used to temporarily abort the steering support if the driver wants to change lane. Pilot Assist is automatically switched off if the driver does not keep a hand on the steering wheel. Interface Pilot Assist is selected and activated by the driver using the steering wheel buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. Adaptive Cruise Control settings like time gap and set speed are available and the driver display shows necessary status

information: steering support on/off. If the system for some reason must be turned off, the driver receives a warning.

Pilot Assist makes driving safer and more relaxed in monotonous stop-and-go traffic by adding steering assistance to the adaptive cruise control function.

When the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system is activated, acceleration, braking and steering are assisted in order to help the driver comfortably follow the traffic flow within the current lane. This has the effect of reducing driver strain in tedious driving situations and increasing safety margins. The system also delivers enhanced speed and distance keeping and a more consistent and precise position in lane. The second generation now offers steering assistance functionality up to 130 km/ h and no longer needs a lead car.

However, the driver is expected to actively participate in the driving and remains responsible for monitoring, supervision, and the overall operation of the vehicle. It is also important to emphasise that semi-autonomous systems are restricted in how much acceleration, braking and steering force they can apply. The driver is always legally responsible for driving the vehicle (driver in the loop: hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, mind on driving). Pilot Assist is a stepping-stone to fully autonomous cars.

Meanwhile Volvo Cars is planning to set up a new joint venture technology company with Geely Holding to share existing and future technology, deepen industrial synergies and provide the economies of scale that will allow them to more rapidly develop next generation electrified vehicle technology.

According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed last week, Volvo Cars, Geely Auto and Lynk & Co will share vehicle architecture and engine technologies via cross licensing arrangements of technologies managed by the new joint venture. They will also cooperate more deeply by commonly sourcing components and cutting procurement costs.

Volvo Cars, Geely Auto and Lynk & Co are controlled by Geely Holding, the Chinese car group. The new joint venture will be 50/50 owned by Volvo Cars and Geely Holding and be headquartered in China with a subsidiary in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“Partnerships to share know-how and technologies are common practice in the automotive industry. This is the model we are adopting,” says Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive. “This planned collaboration will strengthen Volvo’s ability to develop next generation electrified cars.”

Volvo Cars and Geely already share technology, most notably the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) which is being used by Volvo Cars for its soon-to-be-announced smaller range of 40 series cars and by Lynk & Co The intellectual property rights for the technology to be shared will remain with the company that developed it, but the technology itself will be available for use by Volvo, Geely Auto and Lynk & Co, via license agreements.

Future modular vehicle architectures and other technology will be shared and developed based on cost sharing agreements. The company leading the development will own the technology and the other group companies will have full access to it through a license, reducing overall development costs.

It is expected that the collaboration will extend in future to also cover electrified vehicle components such as battery cells, e-motors and charging systems in order to maximise synergies across the group.

Earlier this year at the Detroit Motor Show, Volvo Cars showed its approach to developing autonomous cars when they introduced the Hains, a family of four, from Gothenburg in Sweden, the first people chosen to take part in a real-life autonomous drive research programme using real cars, in real traffic.

“We do things differently at Volvo Cars – we always have,” said Mr Samuelsson. “Our main focus has always been on people and making their lives easier. Technology should improve the consumer experience, making mobility safer, sustainable and more convenient.”

Volvo Cars believes that in the rush to deliver fully autonomous cars, many car makers are forgetting the most important ingredient: the people that will use them.

“The aim of the Drive Me research project is to focus on how to enhance people’s lives and have a positive impact on society. We take a holistic rather than a purely technical approach to our research and development processes. No one else to our knowledge is developing autonomous drive from a human-centric standpoint,” says Henrik Green, senior vice president, research and sevelopment at Volvo Car Group.

The Drive Me project is a collaborative research programme consisting of several players from public, private and academic fields. It is probably the most advanced, ambitious and extensive real-life autonomous drive project in existence. The project will see up to 100 autonomous cars on the roads around Gothenburg, home to Volvo Cars, driven by real people, in real traffic during 2017. The project is set to expand to other cities around the world in the near future.

“We want to learn more around how people feel when they engage and disengage autonomous drive, what the handover should be like, and what sort of things they would do in the car when it’s driving them to their destination,” added Green.

The Swedish car maker aims to have its first fully autonomous cars on the market by 2021.

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