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Volvo taking 100 self-driving cars to the streets in world first

December 3, 2013

Google's self-driving car has completed hundreds of thousands of test miles within the past two years, paving the way for autonomous driving technology. The world's largest automakers are scrambling to catch the tech giant. Nissan has even set a date, promising electric self-driving vehicles on the road by 2020. Volvo, too, has jumped in with both feet, unveiling its concept for a self-parking car controlled via a phone application earlier this year.

Now, the Swedish manufacturer has gone a step further, announcing a program named "Drive Me" that will see 100 self-driving cars hit the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, by 2017.

Volvo's commitment to self-driving machines is evident. And, like most major automakers, the brand has its prototype autonomous vehicles racking up the test miles already. The Drive Me project, however, will be the first mass group of self-driving cars mingling with the general public, piloted (or babysat) by hand-selected, real Volvo customers.

It's set to take place on a 30-mile route within the Gothenburg city limits, featuring freeways, congested city centers and commuter arteries. Volvo's aim is to determine how the technology fits within the real world, what it does to traffic flow and fuel consumption, as well as understanding what additional infrastructure will be necessary to bring self-driving vehicles to the mainstream masses in its fleet of production cars.

Already, Volvo has various autonomous technology entering its vehicles — like its 2014 XC90 SUV with its adaptive cruise control that keeps a set distance between other vehicles, meshed with a system that ensures the car stays centered within its lane. While the thought of sitting in a vehicle driving itself seems about as uncomfortable as swimming in a pool filled with box jellyfish, Volvo contends that it's not dissimilar to flying in a plane on autopilot. Of course, the roads are far more crowded than the skies, and airline pilots have extensive training in knowing when to intervene, but as technology progresses, science fiction becomes reality. Backers contend self-driving cars will save thousands of lives by avoiding accidents due to human driver error, a contention that can only be tested on the road. However that theory unfolds, the future of driverless cars is rapidly approaching.