Volvo gets approval for a no-hands test of its self-driving cars
If you’re planning a vacation in Sweden this year, take careful note of who’s doing the driving in that Volvo beside you. The odds are getting better that the answer is—no one.
That’s because Zenuity – Volvo’s autonomous driving joint venture with partner Veoneer – has just received the go-ahead from Sweden’s Transport Authority to begin conducting tests of its autonomous software on the country’s highways, according to a report by Reuters.
In September of 2018, Volvo had managed to secure a similar permit, but back then the Transport Authority had stipulated that a human being had to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times.
That might be an acceptable condition for testing a Level 2, or maybe a Level 3 autonomous system, but Zenuity has its eye on the Level 4 prize. Successful level 4 vehicles have the capability of completing a trip from point A to point B on most roads without any human touch, so getting the green light on a look-ma-no-hands test permit was a vital next step.
Apparently getting permission for this test, which comes with a maximum speed limit of 80 km/h, wasn’t easy. Ever since Uber’s autonomous vehicle – coincidentally also a Volvo – was involved in a lethal encounter with a pedestrian last year, regulators have been understandably cautious about who gets to test, and where they get to do it.
Veoneer Chief Technology Officer Nishant Batra said the approval to do real-life tests was “essential for gathering important data and test functions,” and, if you read between the lines, essential for keeping up with Google’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise, two of the leading companies in the autonomous race.