Volvo Charges Towards Autonomous Future With New London Pilot

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Volvo continues the push forward into autonomous driving solutions with the announcement of a new “Drive Me London” pilot that will commence in London next year. While Volvo has pilots running in other cities, the London pilot is notable because it will combine real families on public roads.

Volvo XC90 Drive Me autonomous

With the vehicle being mostly autonomous and only presumably requiring input from the “lead passenger” to issue a destination, the impact of having a “real family” is questionable other than the fact that their lives will be on the line.

Autonomous Driving for Safety

The Volvo brand has long been synonymous with safety and it is with these core values in mind that it is pursuing autonomous driving (AD) technology at such an aggressive pace. AD is expected to drive significant reductions in accidents vs human drivers, as it does not get tired, does not drink and drive, and does not get text messages from flirting neighbors.

While Elon Musk has claimed a 50% reduction in accidents with Tesla Autopilot, Volvo’s independent research reveals different (but nonetheless impressive) results:

“independent research has revealed that AD has the potential to reduce the number of car accidents very significantly, in some cases by up to 30 per cent. Up to 90 per cent of all accidents are presently caused by driver error or distraction, something that should largely disappear with AD cars.”

Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of the prestigious Swedish brand opened up about this new passion:

“Autonomous driving represents a leap forward in car safety. The sooner AD cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will start being saved.”

Mr Samuelsson shared his insights into the impact of autonomous driving on accident rates yesterday, May 3rd, at a seminar sponsored by Volvo and Thacham, the well known research organization that powers the insurance industry.

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With AD carrying such promise when it comes to improved safety, one must wonder if the insurance industry is actively lobbying against this new tech. Seeing as how lobbying against AD (because it will reduce accidents) is essentially lobbying against life, it would have to be the most covert of operations … though, I personally wouldn’t be surprised.

Technology + Legal + Vehicles

Digging into the details of the pilot, it’s obvious that Volvo is taking a different tack than its peers. The London pilot is structured with a 3-way partnership between Volvo, academia, and government to tap the cutting-edge innovations cropping up from universities while working a parallel path to define the legislation that will govern not only the self-driving cars of the future but the awkward semi-autonomous vehicles that will roam streets in the interim.

volvo_partnerships autonomous

It’s such an obvious approach but, unfortunately, we haven’t seen many programs that are this comprehensive. This attack on all fronts of the opportunity that EVs represent shows how serious Volvo is about tapping into the cutting-edge tech constantly welling up from academic circles, rolling them into existing and future Volvo vehicles, then reaching out to partner with the government to reform current laws to take into account the latest AD innovations coming down the pipeline.

“There are multiple benefits to AD cars,” said Mr Samuelsson. “That is why governments globally need to put in place the legislation and infrastructure to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help.”

An Electric Future?

With such a structured push for autonomous driving, my personal hope is that Volvo sees a similar (or even larger) opportunity in EVs and makes a similar push in parallel towards electrification. Okay, that last part is just speculation … or is it?

We broke the news just this month that Volvo is ramping up EV efforts on a course towards 1 million EVs by 2025. Even if this number includes PHEVs, this feels insanely stretching if not downright scandalous … but Volvo knows that (well, unless it is including a big portion of that number for conventional hybrids as well). If it is going to have any shot at ending up anywhere near the proximity of these insane numbers, Volvo is going to have to actually kick the EV game into high gear and do some quick rebranding to truly embrace electric vehicles and push for a frontrunner position in this race.

Considering the massive threat that the Tesla Model 3 presents to incumbent auto manufacturers, I’m just going to call it and say that any automaker that’s not pushing for similarly aggressive targets with concrete plans in place by the end of 2016 will be experiencing sharp declines in sales by 2020.

Check out the official video for the “Drive Me London” pilot for some inspiration and happy thoughts:

Images, screen captures and video courtesy Volvo

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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