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Volvo pioneering self-driving cars from 2014

  • Cars can accelerate, brake and steer themselves
  • Reduces the monotony and stress of daily commuting 
  • System works at speeds of up to 31mph

After years of being used as ‘evidence’ of the future in various science fiction epics, cars that drive themselves are soon to become a feature of the present. Volvo is paving the way for self-driving cars to become a reality, announcing that it will launch its first models equipped with a traffic jam assistance system in 2014.

For company car drivers, the technology could be a boon, allowing them to arrive at appointments fresher and more focused. The firm's in-built crash avoidance system already reduces the likelihood of low speed frontal impacts, and this new technology is the next step along the road towards full automation.

The new technology is a development of features recently launched on the new, mid-sized V40 hatchback, which prevents the car both from getting too close to the one in front or veering out of its lane.

At the push of a button, Volvos equipped with the system will not only maintain a pre-determined gap to the traffic in front of it, braking and accelerating as required, it will also steer as the road bends.

Volvo’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Peter Mertens, reassures us that the system is not to replace driver input, or reduce enjoyment at the wheel, but rather to ease the chore of commuting. “This technology makes driving more relaxed in the kind of monotonous queuing that is a less attractive part of daily driving in urban areas. It offers you a safe, effortless drive in slow traffic," he says.

The traffic jam assistance function is limited to speeds of up to 31mph (50km/h) at which point control of the steering returns to the driver. Even when the system is operational, the driver can override it and assume full control at any point.

Additionally, the Swedish firm’s research indicates that in the USA it’s not uncommon for commuters for to spend more time behind the wheel than on holiday, with many spending over 100 hours a year in traffic jams.

Those involved in Volvo’s pilot programme last year were positive about the system citing they not only felt less stressed after a journey but were also free from niggling leg joint aches that can beset those who regularly trudge along urban roads to work.

How would you feel about commuting in a self-driving car? Would you feel safe and relaxed or is this a technological step into the unnecessary? Let us know what you think.