Volvo has been working on autonomous diving technology for some time, including their much-publicized SARTRE road train technology. But this technology is neither fully autonomous nor a fully self-contained system. The leading expert in cars that can completely drive itself is weirdly not a car company at all, but rather Google. The search engine company has logged hundreds of thousands of miles in cars that drove themselves, and they have been the driving force in pushing legislation to allow these vehicles to be used on public roads.
Volvo is really the company we expected this from, as quite a lot of what goes into making a car autonomous is simply an evolution of the crash avoidance systems they are currently working on. This being a safety issue, Volvo naturally took the initiative to make sure they would be at the forefront of this technology. As Inhabitat reports, the next generation of collision avoidance systems will be making an appearance as early as 2014, and Volvo expects to fully implement their ideas for these cars by 2020.
There is a bit of difference between Volvo’s vision and Google’s, and it is an important one. In Google’s future, cars will completely drive themselves, and humans will participate in the transportation experience only passively. Volvo, on the other hand, has a much less Skynet-like idea, and would like humans to remain in control most of the time; taking over only when the driver becomes unresponsive or is about to hit something. As Volvo’s head of government affairs, Anders Eugensson put it “The car of the future will be like the farmer’s horse. The farmer can steer the horse and carriage but if he falls asleep the horse will refuse to walk into a tree or off a cliff.”
That all sounds like the sensible level-headed attitude we’ve come to expect from Volvo, not to mention more realistic than Google’s approach. Truthfully, we expect Volvo’s system to make it to the market first, and it will be interesting to see if Google will end up having to tailor their approach as competing vehicles appear.