Volvo is re-adjusting its self-driving vehicle goals in the interest of making its customers’ autonomous car experience better.
Four years ago, Volvo had said its Drive Me program would put 100 Level 4 vehicles – cars capable of fully driving themselves, though still equipped with a steering wheel and controls should the driver need to take over – onto Sweden’s roads by 2018.
The automaker has amended those goals, saying instead it intends to channel 100 people into the program by 2021, when it hopes to launch its first Level 4 vehicle to the public, reports Automotive News Europe.
At first, the 100 participants in the research program will be supplied only with Level 2 autonomous XC90 SUVS – with features mostly already available on vehicles for sale now – for testing, and their feedback, captured on interior cameras installed in the cars, will be used to develop a next-stage prototype vehicle that they will then also test.
The first such vehicle was delivered to a family in Sweden at the beginning of December; eventually Volvo wants to expand the Drive Me program to London and China.
“Some of the questions that we thought were really difficult to answer have been answered much faster than we expected,” Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s autonomous driving program director, told Automotive News Europe. “And in some areas, we are finding that there were more issues to dig into and solve than we expected.”
Some of those issues include challenges posed by electric vehicle architecture, which the company could not predict at Drive Me’s launch in 2013. Others include which “sensor set” to use, since that specific technology is evolving particularly rapidly, and Volvo doesn’t want to move forward with a set that may soon fall out-of-date.
Most importantly, the company is using the program to gather feedback about how to get consumers to trust the vehicle – since they of course won’t use it if they don’t trust it – and make them feel that it adds enough value to justify the premium they’ll have to pay for it. Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson estimates integrating Level 4 autonomy to a car could pad the price tag by close to $10,000.
Volvo plans to deliver four other semi-autonomous Drive-Me-program XC90 SUVs to four Swedish families for testing by early 2018.