Volvo Cars has reaffirmed its position on one of the thorniest issues surrounding the shift to autonomous vehicles, by stating again that it will take full responsibility for the operation and efficacy of its autopilot technologies. This follows an announcement made in October last year.
This declaration means that drivers using the next evolution of the Swedish brand’s autonomous program are effectively exculpated from responsibility in the event of an accident, providing they’re playing within the established terms and conditions.
Volvo is also pointedly saying that, for the foreseeable future, that vehicle autonomy and ‘driverless cars’ are not synonymous concepts. In other words, cars might be able to handle most general duties without the driver, but the human in the seat will need to be alert and ready to take over.
This means no sleeping, drinking or… other activities while on the move, putting the kibosh on what was hinted at by Volvo’s radical Concept 26.
“There can be no grey zone whatsoever on who is responsible,” Volvo Cars senior director of some key safety programs, Anne-Cathrine Thore Olsson, told a small group of Australian media last week.
“This is the way we have chosen to work and set our targets. We would not accept anything less than a system that is good enough to take full responsibility.”
Olsson said that regulations remained a big issue. The technology may be in Volvo’s hands, but not the various legislation across the globe, which “takes a lot to change”.
Olsson also said that autonomous driving promised “more freedom than ever” by allowing drivers to hand over controls to the car for more tedious tasks such as freeways and stop-start traffic driving, while retaining the need for manual control for some tricker areas such as mountain roads.
Volvo Cars, a global safety leader for decades responsible for the rollout of many core technologies including the three-point seatbelt, is one of many car makers promising autonomous vehicles for sale from 2020, and is about to embark on real-world testing of autonomous XC90 PHEVs in Sweden, the UK and China, to collect data and iron out kinks.
These cars will essentially be the next step from the current production XC90, S90 and V90 that can stop, go and take moderate corners by themselves via a cluster of cameras, lidars, radars and cloud-based connections.
Volvo says that 1.2 million people die in road accidents every year, and a further 50 million are injured. The overwhelming majority are human-caused incidents.