As autonomous (self-driving) cars take center stage at all the auto shows around the nation, kicking off with the Detroit Auto Show this week, one automaker is taking the wheel on what many other brands have ignored to this point: how we, as riders in those cars, will react to taking a back seat, so to speak.
Volvo Cars is launching a test of sorts, putting a Swedish family, the Hain’s (seen in the photo below), in a Volvo XC90 that they’ll be driving on the roads of Gotherburg in Sweden (where Volvo is based). The goal is to gather feedback that Volvo can then incorporate into future developments.
It’s part of the Drive Me project—a collaborative research program involving people in the public, private and academic fields. The point is to get real-life experience from this family while using the autonomous vehicle.
Volvo plans to have about 100 autonomous vehicles on the road this year as part of this project. The intention is to expand to other cities around the world in the near future.
Volvo—which is mounting cameras in the vehicle the Hain’s will be driving (no sound, just video)—appears to be the only automaker considering this part of the equation. Everyone else is looking at other variables, but nobody else is looking at HOW we will hand off control of the car for an autonomous experience, and what kind of things we will do in the car when it’s driving us.
The project certainly has me thinking. I’m not sure how I would handle being in a car that, for all intents and purposes, drives itself. The control freak in me says I’d never relax, always feeling like I need to be at the ready in case that car has to go off autopilot for some crazy reason (and I’m not even sure what that reason would be at this point—a bird flying through its field of vision, an ambulance needing to pass by, expecting me to head to the shoulder of the road, who knows?). But there’s another part of me who is a major multi-tasker. That gal adores the idea of being able to tackle some work, enjoying a meal, maybe even putting on makeup—all those things we see distracted drivers doing behind the wheel already (never me, though, wink, wink). And, of course, there are others who will find even more creative uses for all that free time they’ll now have in a car that they previously had to park to enjoy. But that’s an entirely different story.
So, tell me, how do you think you’d react to being in a car driving itself? Are you ready for what many say will be reality in under a decade? Let me know in comments below.
Meantime, if you want to see the entire announcement about this project, made at the Detroit Auto Show, you can watch in the video below.