As terrible as today’s conditions seem to be (global warming, high gas prices, no more Twinkies, politicians who can’t seen to agree on how terrible rape is) it’s hard to remember that we are living in the future: we have cars that drive and park themselves. We have a nuclear-powered robot on Mars. We can beam a laser into someone’s eyeball and instantly correct their vision. We live in a year that sounds even cooler when you say “twenty-oh twelve” and maybe put a booming “STARDATE” in front of it. And while our fantasies (hoverbikes, vodka-powered sex robots) are farther off, our vision of a highway full of self-driving cars inches ever more forward into the carpool lane.
Well, by STARDATE TWENTY OH FOURTEEN, Volvo will have a car that will defuse that most volatile of driving situations: the traffic jam. Volvo’s adaptive cruise control system automatically drives the car at speeds below 30 miles an hour, following the vehicle in front using technology that’s already available. This system differs from Volvo’s own adaptive cruise control system–available in the XC60, XC70, S60 and S80–and those of other manufacturers by working at smaller distances, and at lower speeds suitable in traffic jams. It pairs Lane Keeping Technology as well, which was introduced on the Euro-only V40 wagon, allowing the car to turn in step with corners.
So yes, the car does drive itself. But the driver is ultimately in control. Peter Mertens, vice president of R&D at Volvo assures, “the car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who is in charge. He or she can take back control of the car at any time.”
Volvo estimates that by driving itself, it gives the driver back some time to listen to mildly amusing comedy podcasts, drink a Trenta, and generally do all the things most commuters do in their cars that don’t involve actually driving it. Volvo has been developing autonomous cars for some time: witness the intelligently-named SARTRE, which sees cars driving in virtual trains up and down the highways. Plus, if someone cuts you off, you can always blame the car. And what isn’t futuristic except the ability to get angry at robots?