Volvo Calls for Global Driverless-to-Human Communication Standard

05 Sep 2018

Volvo is calling for a global standard for driverless vehicle communications as it launch its 360c autonomous concept.

The concept’s aim is to tackle one of the main challenges around the introduction of autonomous technology – how robots can communicate with humans on the road as other manufacturers including Jaguar are working on.

In a statement Volvo said: “Autonomous drive and safety are closely linked, and the technology has the potential to deliver the most significant improvement in traffic safety since Volvo Cars invented the three-point safety belt in 1959. However, autonomous technology will be introduced gradually rather than overnight. As a result, fully autonomous cars will be introduced in a mixed traffic situation where driverless cars without a human driver will share the road with other road users. In such a traffic situation, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with and learn about another driver’s intentions, a central element of today’s everyday traffic interaction.”

So its engineers have created the 360c as one way to establish a safe means of communication between fully autonomous cars and other road users. Also, their focus was to create a universal standard “so that other road users do not have to consider the make or brand of individual autonomous cars”.

Volvo’s methodology is to apply a system of external sounds, colors, visuals and movements to communicate the vehicle’s intentions making it clear that, at all times, what the car will do next. However, the carmaker says the vehicle it will never issue directions or instructions to other road users.

“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” said Malin Ekholm, vice-president at the Volvo Cars Safety Center in a statement. “But it is also important that we do not instruct others what to do next, in order to avoid potential confusion. Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”

The basis of the 360c is a fully autonomous, fully electric car without a human driver. Volvo claims the concept “capitalizes on the freedom in design afforded by the absence of a steering wheel and a combustion engine, providing the ability to re-imagine the traditional placement of passengers in rows of two or three”.

It claims to offer four potential mobility functions as a sleeping environment, mobile office, living room and entertainment space. Inside the sleeping environment, safety engineers have also looked at the possible future of safety technology and how a different passenger positioning could influence safety. A safety blanket included in the sleeping area incorporates a restraining system that works like a three-point safety belt but adjusted to people lying down while traveling.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_