The race is on to get self-driving cars on the road, with a huge crop of automakers and tech firms clamoring to have their automated automobiles be the first to put otherwise immobile individuals behind the figurative wheel in a public setting. Although nobody is ready for primetime with their tech just yet, that hasn't stopped many of them, especially Google, from testing extensively on public roads, with the right regulatory approval. It seems that the latest in the string of names to join that club will in fact be Volvo. Not only do they have their own entry in the self-driving car space, it's quite far along – enough so that it will be tested in London. The pilot program will also run in Sweden and China.
Volvo's program, unlike most tests of self-driving technology, will not involved trained and paid testers. Instead, Volvo will be outfitting 100 vehicles per country, their XC90 SUVs, with the technology, called "Drive Me". These vehicles will then be distributed to perfectly normal civilian families for testing. The reasons for this seemingly outrageous decision are actually quite simple. Volvo wants customers to trust their self-driving technology. Not only will civilian drivers be able to build that trust and spread it via word of mouth, Volvo can use the test families to figure out how to garner confidence. They also want to learn about how human drivers may interact with self-driving cars and what the cars could pick up of human drivers' data, as well as what kind of infrastructure changes will be needed out in the real world, if any, to support self-driving cars in the long term.
In London specifically, the self-driving vehicles will have certain pre-mapped freeway routes where drivers can disengage and have the car drive for them. Under normal circumstances, the cars will not allow the users to engage the autonomous drive. This indicates that testing is in very early phases and data is being gathered on situations the cars may encounter and how to deal with them. Commuters will be able to catch up on work, read the paper or simply zone out during this time, but must take over before the ride ends; otherwise, the vehicle will simply pull over until the driver re-engages. The study is being conducted hand in hand with London's insurance oversight agency, Thatcham Research. Volvo did express a willingness to test in the United States, but there are no plans for such a thing at this time.