Volvo launches autonomous cars in Sweden & autonomous trucks in mines

September 9, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, Uber unleashed a fleet of fully autonomous Volvo XC90s in Pittsburgh. Though humans will be paid to keep the driver's seats warm--at least for now--the SUVs are expected to do most of the driving themselves.

Now, Volvo has begun rolling out its own fleet of autonomous XC90s in the company's traditional hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. The vehicles will be given to participants in Volvo's Drive Me project so the automaker can learn more about how its self-driving software functions in real-world conditions. As Volvo's Erik Coelingh explains, "Customers look at their cars differently than us engineers, so we are looking forward to learn how they use these cars in their daily lives and what feedback they will give us."

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The first autonomous XC90 rolled off the assembly line today. It and its siblings will be inspected thoroughly by engineers to ensure that their self-driving systems work as intended, then they'll be handed over to Drive Me participants in Gothenburg. If all goes as planned, a similar program will launch in London, England next year, and the company is exploring the possibility of running other pilot programs in Volvo's new homebase, China.

Meanwhile, in Sweden's Kristineberg Mine, Volvo is testing another fully autonomous vehicle: a very large, very imposing dump truck. Though the truck is still just a concept, the potential for such a vehicle is huge, especially in dangerous, confined spaces like mines. 

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Volvo plans to offer autonomous driving software on consumer vehicles in 2021.

Our take

We have to admit, we're very pleased to see the progress that Volvo has been making in recent years. After it was sold by Ford to Geely in 2010, no one quite knew what to expect, and the company remained fairly quiet for some time. More than a few worried that Volvo would suffer the same sad fate as Saab--another once-loved Swedish auto brand that was spun off from a Detroit automaker.

But Volvo has returned in a very big way. This autonomous software is a major development, one that surpasses most other efforts we've seen, aside from perhaps Google and Audi. On the Society of Automotive Engineers' scale of autonomous technology (PDF), Volvo's software is fourth- or fifth-level. By comparison, Tesla's Autopilot software ranks around a two.

You can see a brief overview of Volvo's autonomous XC90 (followed by some awkward b-roll) in the video above. And there's a short clip of the Volvo self-driving truck below.

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