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Volvo to skip Level 3 autonomous mode

Volvo is now added to the list of carmakers pulling-away from deployment of Level 3 automated driving (at least for now) with the CEO characterizing the handover of vehicle control as unsafe.

This comes a few months away from the first-ever L3-equipped car from Audi which will conditionally allow drivers to take their eyes-off the road at low speeds and perform some side tasks but requires them to always be available to takeover within a few seconds. Volvo argues that this handover of control is unsafe and will only offer (completely) unsupervised autonomous mode when it’s safe, for which it will assume full responsibility.

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Debate over supervised vs unsupervised driving modes-is an intermediate one a good idea?

Earlier, Ford and Google have also expressed a similar philosophy, with the latter basing its approach on the fact that intermediate levels were subject to abuse and/or misuse. More recently, Mercedes has expressed a similar approach, at least as long as it can guarantee the “best or nothing” moto. Thus, it’s expected the updated version of its (Level 2) Drive Pilot in the upcoming flagship S-Class will also be marketed as an Assistive Level 2 system, even though its capabilities could probably support Level 3.

Another key issue is that the deployment of an immature technology for the sake of remaining competitive could have continuous disengagements thus spoiling the driving experience and ruining customer attractiveness.

This development is another demonstration of the different approaches leading car manufacturers are following to commercialize automated driving amid the engineering, regulatory and consumer adoption hurdles. The industry is currently facing a debate over supervised (L0-2) vs (optionally) unsupervised driving (L4-5) and whether an “intermediate” level (L3), where the system can monitor but drivers have to takeover in case of an emergency is safe and adds value to owners.

2017 is the year of transition from Partially-automated cars (SAE L2), where drivers are in complete control with ADAS being purely assistive for safety and convenience, to Conditionally-automated ones (L3) which can take over the driving and monitoring task under specific scenarios allowing the driver to be ‘’distracted’’

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What’s coming up from leading carmakers

Volvo will start testing its geo-fenced L4 Intellisafe technology using real families this year in Sweden with the Drive Me project, collecting data on system performance as well as feedback of driver acceptance of what will now be an “unsupervised” driving experience.

Mercedes-Benz is also collecting data for it’s automated driving technology in a project in Australia.

Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot, which is equipped with an augmented sensor set and Tesla Vision – the proprietary image processing after the split with Mobileye- has almost reached feature parity with the original Autopilot (L0-2) with Musk promising Self-driving capabilities within the year.

Audi is expected to launch the new A8 in Germany, where the legal framework is currently being amended to allow L3, together with certain states in the Americas where the regulatory framework allows it. The feature is expected to initially run in the background until validation and verification is completed.

It’s up to the Germans now to prove that handover of vehicle control can be done safely, intuitively, without disrupting user experience, and that drivers will exploit the conditional eyes-off the road Traffic Jam Assist offers. If the outcome is successful, this head start will be crucial and determine the approach other carmakers follow to commercialise autonomous driving. It will also provide evidence to other key car markets to amend their legal and regulatory framework to allow conditional automation.

To read more about the strategies leading carmakers follow to unlock higher levels of automated driving check our report Roadmap to Self-Driving Cars. For more information on this report, including sample pages and full Table of Contents, please contact us on (+44) (0)20 3286 4562 or using Contact us form