Volvo Car Group initiates world unique Swedish pilot project with self-driving cars on public roads

While the masses are being wow-ed by Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous technology so far, Swedish carmaker Volvo is less than impressed by it. In an interview with The Verge, Trent Victor, senior technical leader of crash avoidance at Volvo, described Autopilot as an “unsupervised wannabe”. Put simply, Tesla is trying to create a semi-autonomous car that appears to be autonomous.

Tesla officially classifies its Autopilot as a Level 2 autonomous technology. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Level 2 involves automation of at least two primary control functions that work together to relieve the driver of control of those functions (i.e. adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist).

However, as demonstrated on a few occasions, the system is also capable of navigating itself away from danger without human intervention, traits of a Level 3 technology, where the driver can yield full control of all safety-critical functions to the vehicle. However, the driver is still required to take over at a moment’s notice should the unexpected take place.

That aspect is deemed as an unsafe solution, according to Victor. Volvo believes that true autonomous technology means the driver is free to read his or her email, watch a video or listen to music while the car drives itself, without having to be at the ready to take over the wheel.

“It’s important for us as a company, our position on autonomous driving, is to keep it quite different so you know when you’re in semi-autonomous and know when you’re in unsupervised autonomous,” said Victor.

Volvo’s Drive Me autonomous car, which will kick off in Gothenburg in 2017, is a Level 4 autonomous car. This means that the car will be able to drive itself on the road, and is capable of handling any situation that it encounters, all without any human intervention.

“In our concept, if you don’t take over, if you have fallen asleep or are watching a film, then we will take responsibility still,” says Victor. “We won’t just turn [autonomous mode] off. We take responsibility and we’ll be stopping the vehicle if you don’t take over.” Tesla’s Autopilot can suddenly turn itself off if it gets into trouble, and the driver must take over immediately or an unwanted incident can happen.

As you can tell, there is a clear contrast in autonomous design philosophy here, where Tesla believes drivers can be relied on to make the proper decision with regards to their vehicle, while Volvo wants to ensure that the driver will never be in the position of getting into trouble with its autonomous tech.