Volvo breaks down how its automated cars work

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With driverless cars seeming ever closer along that horizon, one of the big aims of auto-makers in the next few years will be convincing everyone that they are safe, easy to use and the future of the driving experience in many ways. To help that message along, Volvo has released a lot of information about just how its new automated features work, many of which could be available in new cars by 2017 according to the manufacturer.

“The key to success is combining sensors, computers and a chassis system in a clever way,” said Erik Coelingh, a technical specialist at Volvo, who said that within the next few years we’ll see Volvo vehicles able to drive along the motorway without incident or input from a driver. They will achieve this with the use of precise global positioning using GPS and 360 degree cameras. On top of that, radars and laser sensors will detect the car’s distance to objects, pedestrians and other vehicles, making sure that it doesn’t get too close or travel at too high a speed when they could potentially cross paths.

Located in the windscreen of each of the vehicles will be what TechWorld terms a “tri-focal camera,” which will be able to detect objects in front and besides the car and could potentially impact the vehicle, but it will also be able to follow lines on the road, making it easier for the vehicle to star in lane on the motorway. The main laser on the car will be located just below the air-intake on the front bumper and will be used to measure the distance from the car to the guard rail on the sides of the road and on the central reservation, as well as the distance to cars in-front of the Volvo vehicle.

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While each of these vehicles will be heavily connected and will be linked up with central computing systems for added processing and information on traffic, accidents and roadworks, the cars will also have a lot of onboard computing power, with two independent systems for backup purposes. The idea there, is that if one were to fail for whatever reason, the other could take over while the original reboots, preventing sudden car failures while on the move. Systems for brakes and acceleration will also have their own dedicated back up systems, meaning that no one should be left without some form of automated or manual control while on the move.

The first generation of cars will not be able to handle every situation and while motorways might become the realm of the automated car in just a few short years, users will need to take over during busier periods and if less-than-perfect weather comes into play, as the vehicles will not be good at handling fog, snow or heavy rain. Should a situation arise that a drier cannot take over though, Volvo has a special autopilot system to bring the car safely to a stop.

Does this assuage any fears you might have over driverless cars?

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.