Autonomous automobiles are looking more like an inevitability, rather than a mere possibility. Benefits of self-driving cars include safe high-speed travel, optimized fuel economy, relaxed commuting, and self-parking features.
Swedish automaker Volvo has gotten out ahead in this technology, specifically in the area of self-parking vehicles, claiming to be the first manufacturer to show a prototype autonomous vehicle interacting with other moving vehicles, as well as other elements in the environment. Yesterday, Volvo released a short video explaining the technology and shows a self-parking prototype in action.
Here's how it works: after stepping out of the vehicle at a designated drop-off zone, the driver uses their smartphone to command the car to park. The vehicle then drives itself around the parking lot in search of an empty spot, using its network of cameras and sensors (many of which currently exist in today's vehicles) to prevent collisions with stationary or moving objects. The driver receives a notification once the vehicle is safely parked.
To be picked up, the driver sends the vehicle another message, at which point the vehicle drives out of its parking spot and returns to the location where the driver first dropped off the vehicle.
"Autonomous Parking is a concept technology that relieves the driver of the time-consuming task of finding a vacant parking space.," said Volvo senior safety advisor Thomas Broberg in a prepared statement. "Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users."
Of course, there are many hurdles to overcome before throngs of driverless cars begin flooding the roads. For starters, the system requires "Vehicle 2 Infrastructure technology," which involves transmitters in the road or parking facility. There are also many legal issues to overcome, particularly here in the U.S.
In the near-term, expect to see a self-steering feature introduced on the next-generation Volvo XC90 luxury crossover, due sometime next year as a 2015 model.
Volvo Car Group has developed an ingenious concept for autonomous parking. The concept car, which will be demonstrated at a media event next week, finds and parks in a vacant space by itself, without the driver inside. The smart, driverless car also interacts safely and smoothly with other cars and pedestrians in the car park.
"Autonomous Parking is a concept technology that relieves the driver of the time-consuming task of finding a vacant parking space. The driver just drops the vehicle off at the entrance to the car park and picks it up in the same place later," says Thomas Broberg, Senior Safety Advisor Volvo Car Group.
Vehicle 2 Infrastructure technology, in other words transmitters in the road infrastructure, informs the driver when the service is available. The driver uses a mobile phone application to activate the Autonomous Parking and then walks away from the car.
The vehicle uses sensors to localize and navigate to a free parking space. The procedure is reversed when the driver comes back to pick up the car.
Interacts with other vehicles and road users
Combining autonomous driving with detection and auto brake for other objects makes it possible for the car to interact safely with other cars and pedestrians in the car park. Speed and braking are adapted for smooth integration in the parking environment.
"Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users," says Thomas Broberg.
Pioneering autonomous technologies
Volvo Car Group's aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and actually delivering pioneering technologies that will reach the customers. The Autonomous Parking concept is one of several development projects in this field.
Volvo Cars has also been the only participating car manufacturer in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which was successfully completed in 2012. The project involved seven European partners. It is the only one of its kind to focus on technology that can be implemented on conventional highways on which platooned traffic operates in a mixed environment with other road users.
The SARTRE platoon included a lead truck followed by four Volvos driven autonomously at speeds of up to 90 km/h - in some cases with no more than a four-meter gap between the vehicles.
Autonomous steering in the next XC90
"The autonomous parking and platooning technologies are still being developed. However, we will take the first steps towards our leadership aim by introducing the first features with autonomous steering in the all-new Volvo XC90, which will be revealed at the end of 2014," concludes Thomas Broberg.