Swedish automaker Volvo will send up to 100 self-driving cars to China for testing on public roads in a variety of conditions, the company's CEO announced at a seminar in Beijing today. The company will hold discussions with Chinese officials to see which cities can accommodate its autonomous cars in terms of regulations and infrastructure. Volvo will first conduct a public test of its self-driving technology in Sweden in 2017 before launching its test fleet in China. (Volvo was acquired by Chinese automaker Geely in 2010.)
"The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help."
Volvo stressed the safety benefits of self-driving cars in its announcement, which is in line with the company's recent statement that it would accept the liability if one of its self-driving cars was involved in an accident. Volvo says self-driving cars will be a key component in its plan to ensure that no one is seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by the year 2020.
In announcing its plans in China, Volvo is also calling on governments worldwide to get their acts together on autonomous driving. "There are multiple benefits to [autonomous driving] cars," CEO Håkan Samuelsson said. "That is why governments need to put in place the legislation to allow AD cars onto the streets as soon as possible. The car industry cannot do it all by itself. We need governmental help."
Volvo seems to be suggesting that China is outpacing other countries, especially the US, in terms of creating a friendly regulatory environment for self-driving cars. Indeed, with its well-publicized problems with congestion and pollution, it's no surprise that China is bullish about a more efficient mode of transportation. A recent New York Times profile of a Chinese engineer suggests that China's affinity for robot cars shows the country is poised to take the lead in the technology.
That's not to say the US isn't doing what it can pave the way for new rules for self-driving cars. Congress has held hearings, and the Department of Transportation is about to kick off its first public meeting on its plan to better regulate the manufacturing of autonomous vehicles, as well as help states craft their own rules for the road.