Volvo is taking autonomous driving to the court of public opinion, putting autonomous-drive cars in the hands of ordinary families in and around the Gothenburg area as part of the Drive Me project.
As part of the program, the families — the Hains (parents Alex and Paula, both 45 years old, and daughters Filippa and Smilla, 17 and 14, respectively) and the Simonovskis (45-year-old Sasko and 41-year-old Anna, daughter Elin and son Villiam, 10 and 8, respectively) — agree to have Volvo engineers monitor their everyday use and interaction with the Volvo XC90 premium SUVs their were provided, as they commute to work, take the kids to school and activities, and complete everyday chores such as shopping. The cars have been fitted with an array of cameras and sensors to capture all facets of driving data every step of the way.
The company is hoping to sign up three more families for the project in 2018, and hopes to have 100 people testing out the vehicles over the next four years as it heads toward the start of production on a completely autonomous vehicle in 2021.
“Drive Me is an important research project for Volvo Cars,” said Henrik Green, Senior Vice President for the company’s R&D department. “We expect to learn a lot from engaging these families and will use their experiences to shape the development of our autonomous driving technology, so that by 2021 we can offer our customers a fully autonomous car.”
The real-world testers aren’t just thrust into the driver’s seat and told to let the car do the work, though. They start off using the vehicle as if it were today’s regular non-autonomous model, and are then trained in the various systems to gradually relinquish control of some driving chores, until the final stage, when they will be driven around by the car (but under controlled conditions and not on public roads).