Volvo’s Pilot Assist gives time back to you
Could you trust your car to drive itself at speeds up to 130kph? We’re not just talking Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) that’ll brake, accelerate and keep pace with a ‘lead’ car; we’re talking level two (out of five) autonomous capability – that ensures full semi-autonomy on the throttle, brakes and steering from standstill, all the way to 130kph, in urban and highway environments. We live in a brave new world where autonomous technology is becoming a top priority in premium automobiles and Volvo’s Pilot Assist is at the forefront of that new wave. It became available as standard in all XC90 derivatives in 2016 and is fitted to all S90 models as standard as well – something that Volvo’s premium competitors only offer as optional equipment.
Volvo Pilot Assist mixes existing ACC capabilities (acceleration and braking) with the new steering assistance feature to enhance accuracy and safety when driving semi-autonomously. The familiar, radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control which monitors other road users, now meets a highly advanced forward facing camera which paints a picture of the S90’s driving environment, scanning road markings and logging data for the car’s ECU and steering actuator.
Having tested it ourselves on the highway and in city traffic in the new S90, the system is nothing short of a revelation. The process starts by simply engaging Pilot Assist using the steering wheel-mounted controls. Using Adaptive Cruise Control as the base to set to your desired speed and distance requirements, Pilot Assist then makes use of the forward-facing camera to successfully identify clearly visible road markings on both sides of the vehicle. When steering assistance is possible, a steering wheel icon turns green in the digital instrument cluster and in the head-up display, and from then on it’s time to relax behind the wheel.
ACC allows for proper “look ma, no feet” driving, but of course Volvo warns against you letting go of the steering wheel completely because Pilot Assist is poised as an assistance system and not outright full autonomy – “driver in the loop”, as they call it. A resting hand on the wheel will reassure the system that a driver is still present and focused on the road, but you can be ‘hands-free’ for 15 seconds before the system registers a graphical and then audible warning.
What impressed us most is the confidence and reliability with which Pilot Assist goes about its business. It doesn’t slow down to the point that it unsettles occupants or risk a rear end impact with an inattentive driver travelling behind.
The forward-facing camera does occasionally lose sight of road markings when they aren’t completely clear on both sides, forcing a quick course correction by the driver – another reason why “driver in the loop” becomes an important thing to remember about Volvo Pilot Assist. In the future, Pilot Assist will eventually evolve into a fully autonomous system – the reality of which is closer than you think. Right now in Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo’s Drive Me project has begun. Real customers are driving real, fully-autonomous Volvo cars, on real roads – with the aim of gathering real-world, real-people data to ensure that future autonomous Volvos are the very best in the world, and that they answer the needs of real people and not just the desires of engineers.
Once the engineers get that right, it won’t just be a case of relaxing and enjoying your Volvo’s Swedish luxury and simplicity – you will genuinely have the opportunity to use your newly-found free time behind the wheel. And, giving you your time back, according to Volvo, is the whole point of autonomous driving.