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Volvo will run a public test of self-driving cars with 100 real people in 2017

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Volvo announced late last week that it'll be testing its autonomous driving system, Drive Me, out in the wild with real drivers when it hits the road in 2017. The test will take place in and around Volvo's hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Volvo Drive Me
One of the things you might do when your Volvo is driving for you.

The company has also been involved with the SARTRE project, a very different type of self-driving tech where test cars are configured to follow a lead vehicle. With Drive Me, meanwhile, cars will be able to navigate entirely on their own, similar to the self-driving projects being undertaken by Google and a number of other automakers. Volvo notes that Drive Me uses a combination of cameras, lasers, and radar to keep track of its surroundings, and maintains a data uplink from the car for detailed maps.

In a brief online press conference announcing the test, Volvo's head of R&D Peter Martens took shots at two of the company's German competitors, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, both of whom have been aggressively marketing the development of their autonomous driving tech in recent years (Audi in particular). "We do this in real traffic with real customers and real cars," he said. "It's relatively easy to put together a mockup or a show car which drives around race circuits with 250 kilometers [per hour] or put living rooms on four wheels and pretend that this is the car interior, how it looks like in 10 years. It's much more complicated and much more real-life to really put the cars into the traffic where it's the most complicated situation."

Volvo Drive Me

The race circuit Martens mentions is a reference to Audi's high-speed autonomous run at Hockenheimring last year in a specially-equipped RS7; the "living room on four wheels" refers to the self-driving F 015 concept that Mercedes unveiled at CES in January. Neither company has specifically committed to a real-world test of a fully autonomous car by end users, however.

Volvo is working with the city of Gothenburg for the 2017 pilot program, and therein lies one of the biggest challenges that self-driving cars face: the development of the underlying technology is at serious risk of outpacing government regulation to manage it. A single small-scale test in a single city is a start, but the road to national, harmonized laws to support autonomous tech offered by cars sold in dealerships is still a long way off.