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One of the UK's most ambitious autonomous driving trials will begin in 2017, with 100 self-driving Volvo vehicles taking to the streets of London.
The Drive Me London programme will be different from other autonomous vehicle technology trials because its participants will be real families using their cars in day-to-day situations.
Volvo – which has long made a virtue of driver, passenger and pedestrian protection – said autonomous driving represents a fundamental leap forward in road safety. The manufacturer pledged that nobody will be seriously injured or killed by one of its cars by the year 2020.
“The sooner autonomous driving cars are on the roads, the sooner lives will be saved,” said Volvo president and chief executive, Håkan Samuelsson.
The trial will source data from everyday Volvo drivers and use it to develop autonomous cars suitable for real-world driving conditions. Insurance industry research body Thatcham Research will provide technical data analysis and a number of supplementary professional test drivers.
The first limited trial will begin early in 2017 and will expand in 2018 to include about 100 vehicles, which Volvo said would make it the largest autonomous driving programme in the UK.
The Sweden-based auto manufacturer has put road safety at the heart of its previous demonstrations of connected car technology.
In 2015 it showed off a machine-to-machine (M2M) social network at Mobile World Congress, which enabled cars to talk to one another via the cloud, to warn drivers of hazardous road conditions ahead.
With the collaboration of transport authorities, it tested the feature on 1,000 vehicles in Norway and Sweden, where winter driving conditions are particularly treacherous.
The UK test will be formally presented at a seminar on 3 May 2016, sponsored by Volvo and insurance industry research body Thatcham Research.
Research conducted in the US has suggested that by 2035, crashes could be reduced by up to 80% as a result of using autonomous cars.
“We’ve already seen this with the adoption of autonomous emergency braking on many new cars,” said Thatcham chief executive Peter Shaw.
“Additionally, if a crash can’t be avoided, then the impact speed will also drop as a result of the systems’ performance, reducing the severity of the crash.”
Furthermore, autonomous driving will allow cars to move more smoothly, cutting down time spent idling in traffic and, by extension, carbon emissions.
“There are multiple benefits to autonomous driving cars,” said Volvo’s Samuelsson. “That is why governments globally need to put in place the legislation and infrastructure to allow autonomous driving cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself.”
The UK is rapidly becoming a nexus for development of autonomous vehicle technology after the government established a code of practice for driverless car testing, and a £20m research and development funding pot.
In February 2016 Jaguar Land Rover announced it was establishing a "living laboratory", a 41-mile stretch of road in the Midlands to test autonomous cars, while Highways England plans to start its own tests in 2017.