Volvo traffic jam assistance brings self-driving cars one step closer

Volvo traffic jam assistance to debut in 2014Google isn’t the only corporation trying to pitch self-driving cars to the average commuter. Volvo plans to introduce a car that can drive itself through a traffic jam in 2014. What the company calls “traffic jam assistance” will allow a car to automatically follow the vehicle in front at low speeds.

Traffic jam assistance is an outgrowth of Volvo’s Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep Aid Technology. Both systems allow a car to act on its own in limited circumstances, but traffic jam assistance will give the machine more control.

Like Adaptive Cruise Control, traffic jam assistance maintains a set distance from the car in front. However, the new system works at slower speeds (under 31 mph). When the system is used, a car can accelerate, steer, and brake itself without any driver involvement.

The system, which is activated with the push of a button, might inspire thoughts of Christine, or KITT’s evil twin, KARR. Volvo says this new technology is just here to help.

“The car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who is in charge. He or she can take back control of the car at any time,” Volvo senior vice president, research and development Peter Mertens said in a statement.

Mertens says the purpose of traffic jam assistance is not to take away driving pleasure, but to make driving more enjoyable for people who spend most of their time creeping along on a daily commute.

“This technology makes driving more relaxed in the kind of monotonous queuing that is a less attractive part of daily driving in urban areas. It offers you a safe, effortless drive in slow traffic,” he said.

However, Volvo wants to do more than allow commuters to play Fruit Ninja while driving. The Swedish carmaker has been testing autonomous vehicles in other situations. Its SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project involved “platooning” cars in tight formation at 56 mph. Volvo was also the first to sell a car with automatic braking, as part of its City Safety package.

“Our aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and pioneering technologies that will reach actual customers. Making these features reliable and easy to use is crucial to boosting customer confidence in self-driving cars,” Mertens said.

Traffic jam assistance will be offered on models based on Volvo’s upcoming Scalable Product Architecture platform, and will go on sale in 2014.

Given the political dance Google has had to do to test its self-driving cars on public roads, it will be interesting to see how Volvo fairs in 2014. If the system fails and a self-driving Volvo rear ends the car in front of it, the crash wouldn’t really be the driver’s fault.

Google escaped from this legal gray area by cajoling California and Nevada into explicitly legalizing autonomous cars. Will Volvo be content to only sell traffic jam assistance in those two states, or will it begin a lobbying effort of its own?

So far, regulators have accepted adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, even though those systems take control away from the driver. Volvo’s traffic jam assistance is much more complex, though, further blurring the line between car and robot.

Cars

Tesla will release fully self-driving cars in 2019 — with a big asterisk

Tesla reaffirmed its goal of releasing a fully self-driving car by the end of 2019, but it warned the system won't work perfectly 100 percent of the time. Convincing regulators that it's safe to use will require some effort, too.
Cars

Apple opens up about its self-driving car program in letter to NHTSA

Apple has traditionally kept details about its self-driving car technology under wraps, but it has revealed details about the program in a rare instance of openness. The company takes safety seriously.
Cars

Waymo rules and Apple trails in California self-driving car benchmarks

California's DMV releases annual reports of self-driving car disengagements on public roads. In the most recent reports. Waymo had the best performance, GM Cruise came in second, and Apple's self-driving program was in last place.
Cars

Audi is advancing the tech that teaches cars to talk to traffic lights

Audi is teaching its cars the language of traffic lights. The company developed technology that tells motorists what speed they should drive at in order to catch as many green lights as possible.
Cars

Watch a modified Audi e-tron electric SUV drive straight up a ski slope

A modified Audi e-tron climbed up an 85-percent gradient on an Austrian ski slope in a tribute to a classic Audi commercial. The vehicle used for the stunt sported an extra electric motor and spiked tires.
Cars

Mamma mia! Alfa Romeo will unveil a new model at the Geneva Auto Show

Alfa Romeo told Digital Trends it will unveil a new model at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show. It stopped short of revealing what it has in store, but rumors claim it will be a crossover positioned below the Stelvio.
Cars

Citroën says you could drive its tiny Ami One electric car without a license

Citroën's Ami One concept car is an electric vehicle that's as cute as it is compact. The miniature motor only has a top speed of 28 mph, so the French automaker imagines it as a shareable runaround for short drives.
Cars

Arizona city slammed with $10M lawsuit over fatal Uber autonomous car accident

The family of Elaine Herzberg, the woman struck and killed by one of Uber's self-driving prototypes, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Tempe, Arizona. They claim Herzberg jaywalked because she was confused by a brick…
Cars

Mercedes lets the sun shine in one last time with SLC Final Edition convertible

The Mercedes-Benz SLC convertible sports car is going out of production. Launched in 1996 as the SLK, the model has been a fixture in the Mercedes-Benz lineup across three generations.
Cars

Aston Martin’s next hypercar, due in 2021, will pack a hybrid powertrain punch

Aston Martin will follow up the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro with a new hypercar, code-named Project 003. The car will debut in 2021, with production limited to 500 units worldwide.
Cars

Consumer Reports bumps the Tesla Model 3 off of its list of recommended models

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the six new cars that have lost their coveted Recommended rating from Consumer Reports over reliability concerns. In 2018, Model 3 owners reported body trim falling off and problems with the car's glass.
Cars

Lyft’s Shared Saver service offers cheaper rides, but you’ll have to walk a little

Lyft has launched a new ride option called Shared Saver that offers cheaper rides if you're willing to walk a little. Shared Saver designates a nearby pick-up point and drops you off a short distance from your final destination.
Cars

Has Apple rebooted its self-driving car program to develop autonomous vans?

The on-again, off-again Apple car is back on track, but it's not a sedan or a hatchback. It will arrive as an electric, autonomous passenger-carrying van, according to a recent report.
Cars

Waymo’s self-driving prototype obeys a traffic cop’s hand signals

One of Waymo's self-driving prototypes successfully navigated a situation that leaves even some human drivers confused: An intersection whose traffic lights are down. It waited for the traffic cop to wave it on.