Volvo unveils self-driving concept car, promises fleet by 2017

Volvo says it will be liable for any accidents its cars cause

Volvo self-driving car autonomous

A look inside Volvo's Concept 26, a prototype for its self-driving vehicle.

Credit: Volvo

Volvo today released photos and details of a self-driving concept sedan that is a precursor to a "fleet" of 100 vehicles the company said will be on the roads of Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017.

Volvo's new Concept 26, named to reflect the average daily commute to work of 26 minutes, incorporates a new bucket-style seat design that actively cradles the driver during the transformation phase into one of the three modes: Drive, Create or Relax. 'Relax' mode is a fully reclined seat position, where 'Create' is a bit more upright, "allowing for work and play."

Volvo self-driving concept car Volvo

In "Relax Mode" the Volvo Concept 26's steering wheel retracts, the seat reclines and a large 25-in display emerges from the dashboard allowing the driver to ignore the road.

Unlike Volvo, Google, which unveiled its self-driving car in 2014, said its vehicle will have no steering wheel. Google has said its autonomous two-door compact car is currently being tested on California roads and is expected to go into production by 2020.

Tesla has also promised a self-driving car, but its timeline is more ambitious: 2017.

According to Tesla, more than 1 million cars have already installed a recently released over-the-air software upgrade to the Model S sedan's Autopilot feature, which includes a beta version of Autosteer and Auto Lane Change. Both upgrades, however, are driver assist features and a driver's hands should remain on the steering wheel, the company has said.

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Volvo's Concept 26 self-driving concept sedan while in "Drive mode." In drive mode, the car must be actively controlled.

With Volvo's Concept 26, when a driver wants the car to take over, the steering wheel retracts, the seat reclines and a large display emerges from the dashboard -- allowing the driver ignore the road and perform other tasks.

Volvo also took on a controversy that has been swirling around the self-driving car industry: Who will be responsible when an autonomous vehicle causes an accident?

"Volvo Cars is among the first to address the subject of self-driving cars and liability. We firmly believe that car makers should take full responsibility for the actions of the car when it is driving in full autonomous mode," Peter Mertens, senior vice president of R&D at Volvo AB.

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A sideview of the Volvo Concept 26 while in "Relax Mode".

"If a manufacturer does not accept liability, it clearly implies that they are not confident about their autonomous drive technology," he added.

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