SEMI-AD CARS WILL TAKE TO THE STREETS OF LONDON EARLY NEXT YEAR
Volvo has announced plans to conduct the “most ambitious” trial of driverless car technology on UK roads.
The Swedish manufacturer says it will be the first time members of the British public will be recruited to get behind the wheel of autonomous driving (AD) cars on a public highway.
A limited number of semi-AD cars will take to the streets of London early next year, before the scheme is extended in 2018 to up to 100 vehicles.
Adapted versions of Volvo’s XC90 sport utility vehicle will be used in the trials.
They will be fitted with additional computer systems, cameras and sensors to enable them to carry out steering, lane changes, acceleration and braking without driver control, Volvo said.
Hakan Samuelsson, president of the Gothenburg-based company, commented: “Autonomous driving represents a leap forward in car safety.
“The sooner AD cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved.”
Data from the scheme will be analysed by Volvo to help it develop AD cars. The firm has not confirmed which parts of the capital will be used for the trial.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced plans in the recent Budget for trials to allow driverless cars on motorways next year.
Proposals sweeping away regulations that prevent autonomous driving are expected to be brought forward in the next few months that would allow driverless cars to take to the roads by 2020.
Driverless Volvos will be trialled with members of the public; below, Volvo’s IntelliSafe Auto Pilot interface. Pictures / Supplied
Engineers suggest that driverless cars, which can alert drivers to accidents and traffic jams, could eventually prevent 95 per cent of crashes, according to the Treasury.
Tests of “truck platooning” will be carried out on motorways, which would see trucks travel in a tightly packed convoy that improves fuel economy by reducing aerodynamic drag.
Developers of driverless vehicles have long promised the technology could allow traffic to flow more freely, drive closer together and so save energy.
But recent research suggested people may ditch public transport in favour of driverless vehicles, increasing the number of cars on the road and energy consumption by up to 60 per cent.
The experts made their estimates on the basis that new cars will be fully automated within 20 years.
Up to 10 per cent of traffic increase could be due to elderly people being able to “drive” for longer, rather than giving up their cars when their sight deteriorates, for example.
Freight could be also shifted from the railways to autonomous trucks.
Elsewhere, speed limits could be raised as the risk of accidents falls, using up more energy, the report in the journal Transportation Research A predicts.
Despite this, congestion levels are expected to fall by up to four per cent, as driverless cars will be able to drive closer together and at higher speeds than conventional cars.
The study looked at how various technologies would impact the United States by mid century.
It says that more efficient computer-directed driving styles could lead to a 20 per cent reduction in energy use, while improved traffic flow and reduced jams may lead to a four per cent reduction in energy use.
Cars driving in convoys could create aerodynamic energy savings of between four per cent and 25 per cent while lighter vehicles could save between five and 23 per cent.
There would also be fewer accidents and less emphasis on high performance vehicles, reducing energy use of up to 23 per cent.
But these very benefits could lead to an increase in the popularity of driving, meaning more cars on the roads and a five to 60 per cent increase in car energy consumption overall.
Assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Don MacKenzie at the University of Washington added: “There is lots of hype around self-driving cars, much of it somewhat utopian in nature.
“But there are likely to be positives and negatives.
“By taking a clear-eyed view, we can design and implement policies to maximise the benefits and minimise the downsides of automated vehicles.
“Vehicle automation presents a paradox: it may encourage people to travel much more, but at the same time it makes it practical to implement tools such as road pricing that can offset those effects.
“Ultimately, however, it’s up to the government to set appropriate policies to manage these impacts.”