Volvo has announced that it plans to trial its autonomous vehicles on the roads of London from early next year, but does that mean that a new autonomous driving test could be on the cards?
According to a report by by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), both drivers and cars should have to pass a new autonomous driving test if they get behind the wheel of one on the road.
The European think tank suggests that the new test should be different to the current driving test, ensuring a driver is capable of regaining control of a vehicle that can drive itself.
The ETSC report, named "Prioritising the Safety Potential of Automated Driving in Europe" states that Brussels should: "Consider revising the Driving Licence Directive to include driver assistance systems and adapt driver training so that drivers can gain a working knowledge of when and how to use automation features and understand the basics, advantages and limits of the technology."
The report also recommends that a driverless car itself take a driving test – in addition to the extensive testing that they already receive. The report states: “Revise type approval standards to cover all the new safety functions of automated vehicles, to the extent that an automated vehicle will pass a comprehensive equivalent to a ‘driving test’, which should also take into account high risk scenarios for occupants and road users outside the vehicle."
This report comes following the announcement that Volvo Cars plans to undertake the UK’s most ambitious autonomous driving trial next year, in a bid to speed up the introduction of a technology that promises to massively reduce car accidents, as well as free up congested roads and save drivers valuable time.
The programme called ‘Drive Me London’ will use real families driving autonomous cars on public roads.
Drive Me London will initially involve a few cars; specifically XC90s – then the fleet will expand to about 100 in 2018. “Real families” will be at the helm so any findings reflect real scenarios, rather than artificial scenarios at test centres. Data will then be used to create superior generations of autonomous car.
Independent research has shown that autonomous cars have the potential to reduce the number of car accidents, in some cases by up to 30%. Up to 90% of all accidents are presently caused by driver error or distraction, something that should largely disappear with autonomous cars.
President and chief executive of Volvo Cars Hakan Samuelsson said: "Autonomous driving represents a leap forward in car safety. The sooner autonomous driving cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved.”
Chief executive of Thatcham Research Peter Shaw said: "Research in the US by NHTSA predicts that by 2035, as a result of autonomous and connected cars, crashes will be reduced by 80%. Additionally, if a crash unfortunately can't be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the system's performance – reducing the severity of the crash.”
Autonomous vehicles are also said to allow traffic to move more smoothly, thus reducing traffic jams.
The programme will begin early next year, with a limited number of semi-autonomous driving cars and expand in 2018 to include up to 100 autonomous cars.
Autonomous vehicle features and capabilities
A Volvo XC90 autonomous vehicle has a range of features which enable it to steer, accelerate, brake and signal, etc. in a wide variety of conditions. These include: radar, cameras, laser and ultrasonic sensors that (say) confirm it is 2 metres from a hazard.
Furthermore, its GPS system is linked to a cloud-based map that is constantly updated. This confirms the vehicle's location and enables it to navigate to a specified destination. Volvo also said:
- the car can handle the most complicated scenarios;
- the technology is so reliable the driver does not have to monitor the traffic;
- in an emergency the car reacts faster than most humans.
The UK Government's Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills, Sajid Javid, claimed: "Such advances in technology prove the fourth industrial revolution is just around the corner - and our determination to be at the forefront is why we are attracting top names from across the globe for real-world testing."