Volvo focuses on drivers with new 'Drive Me' plan

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — Volvo Cars will take a different approach to developing fully autonomous vehicles by putting every-day drivers behind the wheel to test out the technology, the Swedish automaker announced Monday.

The Drive Me project will put up to 100 autonomous cars on the roads in Gothenburg, Sweden, during 2017, with the intent of expanding the project to other cities around the world "in the near future."

Illustration of research cameras on Volvo's XC90 Drive Me car.

The first family to test the technology joined Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo president and CEO, on stage at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday to announce the new strategy, that will use "real people and real roads," according to Samuelsson.

“We do things differently at Volvo Cars – we always have,” he said."Our main focus has always been on people and making their lives easier. Technology should improve the consumer experience making mobility safer, sustainable and more convenient.”

The Drive Me program focuses on the driver as much as the sensors and cameras guiding the vehicle on the road. The XC90 SUV used in the tests is equipped with cameras monitoring the passengers in the vehicle as well as whatever is happening outside.

“We take a holistic rather than a purely technical approach to our research and development processes. No one else to our knowledge is developing autonomous drive from a human-centric standpoint,” said Henrik Green, senior vice president of research and development at Volvo.

Volvo aims to have its first fully autonomous vehicle on the market in 2021. The company is also partnering with ride-sharing company Uber and other technology companies to develop the "base technology" for autonomous vehicles.

“We want to learn more around how people feel when they engage and disengage autonomous drive, what the handover should be like, and what sort of things they would do in the car when it’s driving them to their destination,” said Green.

On the manufacturing side of the company, Volvo again highlighted plans to add 4,000 U.S. jobs at a plant in Charleston, South Carolina, which will begin producing vehicles in 2018.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau