Volvo has taken another step in the development of autonomous driving – self-driving vehicles - by demonstrating a new traffic jam assistance system. The new system, whereby the car automatically follows the vehicle in front in slow-moving traffic queues up to 50kph (31mph), will be ready for production in 2014. (Scroll down the page for video of the system in action.)
"This technology makes driving more relaxed in the kind of monotonous queuing that is a less attractive part of daily driving in urban areas. It offers you a safe, effortless drive in slow traffic," says Peter Mertens, Volvo's senior vp, research and development.
The traffic jam assistance function is an evolution of the current Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Aid technology, which was introduced in the all-new Volvo V40 earlier in 2012. The driver activates the traffic jam assistance function by pushing a button. When active, the engine, brakes and steering respond automatically. The Adaptive Cruise Control enables safe, comfortable driving by automatically maintaining a set gap to the vehicle in front, at the same time as the steering is also controlled.
"The car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who is in charge. He or she can take back control of the car at any time," says Mertens.
Slow-moving queues are part of urban commuting. Americans spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. This is more than the average two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) many Americans have per year. Drivers in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles spend even longer times queuing to and from work every day.
"The situation is of course similar, or even worse, in major urban areas all over the world. Our aim with the traffic jam assistance is to make commuting a bit less stressful for the driver," adds Mertens, who explains that autonomous driving – with steering, acceleration and/or braking automatically controlled by a vehicle that requires very little human interaction – is a major focus area in Volvo's development work.
"Our aim is to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving by moving beyond concepts and pioneering technologies that will reach actual customers. Making these features reliable and easy to use is crucial to boosting customer confidence in self-driving cars," he explains.
The low-speed traffic jam assistance system is the second technology for autonomous driving recently presented by Volvo. A few weeks ago, the company demonstrated the SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), which focuses on platooning in highway and freeway traffic at speeds of up to 56mph.