Volvo says its Autopilot autonomous-car tech is ready for public roads

As part of its ongoing “Drive Me” experiment, Volvo plans to put 100 self-driving cars in the hands of customers in Gothenburg, Sweden, by 2017. Today it announce a significant step toward meeting that goal.

The carmaker claims to have developed a “complete, production-viable autonomous drive system” that uses onboard sensors and a cloud-based positioning system to keep autonomous cars from going Christine on Swedish citizens.

Called Autopilot, it’s based around a battery of sensors that includes a windshield-mounted radar and camera unit borrowed from the 2016 XC90, as well as two radar units each in the front and rear bumpers, five additional cameras (including a trifocal unit in the windshield) and a laser scanner.

All of the information collected by these sensors is compared to a continually-updated 3D map and GPS data to give the car a picture of its surroundings.

In addition, Volvo will use a cloud-based system to connect test cars to local traffic control centers. This will allow the cars to receive real-time traffic information, and let authorities tell drivers to shut down the autonomous systems if they believe safety is compromised.

Volvo says the Autopilot system will be able to handle everything from “smooth commuting to heavy traffic and emergency situations.” It anticipates that the system will react faster than a human in emergencies.

Autopilot still requires a human driver, though. It isn’t designed to work in inclement weather, and will switch the car back over to manual control if it detects any technical glitch.

The initial tests probably won’t tax the system too much, though. While Autopilot will be used on public roads, Volvo will start out on less-crowded ones where there’s less likely to be oncoming traffic, cyclists, or pedestrians.

Volvo has already begun testing cars with more limited self-driving capability in Gothenburg. These vehicles can only adjust speed, change lanes, and merge with traffic.

The company believes its efforts to develop self-driving cars serve not just a marketing purpose, but an ethical one as well.

Proponents of autonomous cars say they can massively decrease crashes, and lower fuel consumption. Volvo also says time normally spent concentrating on driving can be freed up as “quality time” for other things.

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