Okay, that isn’t entirely accurate.

I’m not actually behind the wheel of the Drive-Me S60. I’m in the passenger seat — only someone trained in autonomous driving is allowed to sit in the driver’s seat.

But the Volvo really is driving itself. At 70km/h. On a highway that loops around the city of Gothenburg, Sweden (the car’s birthplace and Sweden’s second largest city).

And, it really is pouring…

This is Volvo’s “Drive-Me” project, which aims to make what I described in that opening paragraph a reality by 2017.

(By then, in-car connectivity will surely be such that I’ll be able to file my story for Autofocus.ca instantly, along with any related photos and videos…)

Ah, the self-driving car. Talk to anyone and you’ll see how the topic leaves no one indifferent:

From a Web forum: “I can’t wait to be able to have one too many and let my self-driving car take me home.”

At a hair salon: “No way! I want to remain in control of my vehicle. I don’t even trust cruise control!”

On an Air Canada flight: “I would love to be driven to work. I would love to be able to get an extra hour’s sleep… in my car.”

And then there’s: “What? Give up the pleasure of driving? I might as well just take a cab.”

Personally, I dream of the day when I’ll be able to work while cruising down the 401 without having to take the train or a plane.

What about you? Tell us what you think about self-driving cars by leaving a message in our comment box (below) or on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Autofocus.ca.

Yes, there are many potential pitfalls on the road to turning this dream—or nightmare—into reality. Still, many carmakers have taken the autonomous plunge: Mercedes, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford, Tesla and even Google, whose self-driving cars: have already logged over 1 million accident-free kilometres, to name a few.

Volvo takes the cake though. A carmaker known for safety if ever there was one, it was who Volvo developed the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot project; by 2017, the Drive-Me project will have 100 or so autonomous cars driving themselves on some 50 kilometres of highway around Gothenburg.


Each of the 100 Drive-Me models will be entrusted to clients willing to lease them for two years at the same monthly cost as a regular Volvo. These Drive-Me Volvos, unlike other Volvos (or any other car for that matter), will be equipped with numerous black boxes and transmitters.

Every time a “driver” activates the self-driving module, these black boxes and transmitters will relay second-by-second real-world data back to the automaker. The goal is to collect as much data as possible… and ensure that no one has the bright idea of letting a car drive itself on roads other than those authorized by Volvo.

Motorists in the area, take note: don’t make any sudden manoeuvres and, most importantly, don’t call 911 if you see a driver behind the wheel of a Volvo reading or surfing the Web on their smartphone…

Think 2017 is a long time away? Not when you consider the few “minor” details that need to be ironed out between now and then:

  • the self-driving cars must be able to recognize whether or not a pedestrian is about to cross a street, and be able to stop accordingly;
  • they must be able to merge and exit any traffic, respecting any and all highway safety codes;
  • in winter driving conditions, the self-driving cars must be able to detect icy roads to adjust braking and following distances accordingly;
  • in construction zones, they must reduce their speed and interpret the meaning of orange cones.

Look, Volvo still has a ways to go before arriving at a fully autonomous driving experience. Drivers still have to take the wheel of the “Drive-Me” S60 in urban traffic.

But outside of the urban traffic, “our” S60, equipped with a host of technologies (most of which were hidden in the trunk and which Volvo would not show us for trade secret reasons), drove itself.


It drove itself over some 20 kilometres on Highway E6, despite poor visibility.

No, not even torrential rain could torpedo our autonomous drive.

Don’t be surprised. Onboard, a number of mechanisms kept us on track, beginning with lane-marking sensors, barrier detectors, radar and LIDAR (laser radar).

So, what’s it like to be driven by… no one?

No different from being driven by a driver.

In fact, it’s really not that far removed from some of the driver-assist features that are already widely available. Features like smart cruise control, blind spot monitoring systems and lane change mechanisms, collision warning systems and auto-braking systems that have all helped pave the way towards the autonomous car.


The Drive-Me S60 did have some trouble with lane markers, and our driver-technician, always on guard, had to correct it a number of times.

The drive was also quite tame. The system is programmed to religiously respect speed limits. And the speed limit was 70 km/h on the road we were driving.

Our car was pretty much the only one obeying the speed limit… But if that’s the cost of being able to write my stories from behind the wheel, I’m all for it.

What really wowed was the autonomous parking demonstration.

I’m not talking about the way your Toyota or Ford parks itself with you at the wheel.

No, I’m talking about a system where you can literally get out of the car and let the car go park itself nearby, with the simple touch of a “Go Park” app on your smartphone.


Time to hit the road again? Use the “Pick me up” app to start the vehicle and have it drive itself to you.

Admit it – you’re impressed by the idea of your car driving around without anyone in it, dropping you off and picking you up wherever you want.

Of course, before this James Bond-like experience becomes possible for the masses, not only does autonomous driving need to be perfected, things like roadway infrastructure enabling smartphones to “communicate” with empty parking spaces must also be developed.


Don’t think this will happen anytime soon? You should know that Sweden’s transportation and urban planning agencies are already salivating at the prospect of cars being able to park in narrower parking spaces or in indoor parking lots with lower ceilings, seeing how passengers will already have gotten out of the vehicle when it goes to park itself.

Maybe they’ll even be able to make their dream of getting rid of street parking altogether a reality.

As for us, well, we’re excited at the idea of a city where you won’t have to drive around in circles in search of parking or struggle to get into a parking space…