JUST ACROSS THE road from Gothenburg’s main railway station, at the foot of a pair of hotels, a line of taxis is waiting to pick up passengers. The drivers, all men, many of them immigrants, chat and lean against their vehicles, mostly Volvos. One of them, an older man with an immaculate cab, ferries your correspondent to Volvo’s headquarters on the other side of the river. Another car is waiting there, a gleaming new model with unusual antennae perched on two corners of its roof. An engineer gets in and drives the car onto a main commuter route. Then he takes his hands off the wheel.
Volvo, like many car manufacturers, is putting a lot of work into automated vehicle technology. Such efforts have been going on for some time and were responsible for the development of power steering, automatic transmissions and cruise control. In the 2000s carmakers added features such as automated parallel parking and smart cruise, which can maintain a steady distance between vehicles. In 2011 Google revealed it was developing fully autonomous cars, using its detailed street maps, an array of laser sensors and smart software. It recently unveiled a new prototype that can be configured to have no driver controls at all, save an on/off button. Traditional car manufacturers are taking things more slowly, but the trend is clear.