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Although Volvo’s reinvention under Geely still feels new, the second generation of new Volvos is right around the corner. And with it, Volvo wants to be ready for autonomous driving.
As of 2022, Volvos based on the SPA2 platform will be sold with the option of a LiDAR sensor right above the windshield. This, says Volvo, means the car just needs to be updated over the air with autonomous drive software once it is deemed safe, and it will be able drive itself in certain situations.
“Autonomous drive has the potential to be one of the most lifesaving technologies in history, if introduced responsibly and safely,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars. “Providing our future cars with the vision they require to make safe decisions is an important step in that direction.”
LiDAR is a highly accurate sensor system that allows cars to “see” the road ahead. With these sensors installed and the necessary CPU space, it’s only a matter of making sure that the drive software is up to scratch.
Volvo claims that cars with the LiDAR will be able to download software over the air for Highway Pilot. It will be then be activated once Highway Pilot is deemed safe and approved by local authorities.
“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” said Henrik Green. “At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction.”
The system sounds a bit like Cadillac’s Super Cruise, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel on highways. That system combines highly accurate mapping with LiDAR to give drivers a level 3 autonomous experience, but only on those highways where it is approved for use by Cadillac.
On, say, downtown Detroit surface streets, it is not available. The thinking is that, since the handover from human to autonomous system is the most dangerous moment, and since highway are a much more controlled environment (with fewer pedestrians or cyclists) they are a clear and easy first step to autonomous driving.
Although Volvo has not mentioned it, it seems likely that Super Cruise has opened the door—legally-speaking—for Volvo’s system. It is not inconceivable then that North America may be among the early markets to have access to Highway Pilot.
Still, not all autonomous programs have been successful. Audi, whose A8 is similarly equipped with autonomous drive hardware, recently announced that it would soon no longer offer the hardware. Its hardware also preceded its software and the legal system. It seems that it may have preceded it by too much.
Just how long after the autonomous hardware the autonomous software will become available is not clear yet and will presumably depend on individual markets. The price of the hardware has also not been revealed.
But Volvo and Luminar, the firm building the LiDAR equipment, are touting the device as the avant-garde of automotive safety all the same.
“The next era of safety lies within autonomous driving and once again, Volvo has taken the lead with a major industry milestone,” says Austin Russel, Luminary’s CEO. “We’ve solved the key cost, performance, and auto-grade challenges to make series production possible, and alongside Volvo are making the technology available to the world.”