Autonomous vehicles getting closer

Volvo Cars has been known for safety, creating the first SUV that didn’t topple over. It’s one of the reasons Ford bought them. Volvo is setting a new bar for safety and technology standards by partnering with tech firm Luminar to provide their industry-leading LiDAR and perception technology for Volvo’s next-generation cars.

The partnership will deliver Volvo’s first fully self-driving technology for highways and paves the way for future active safety developments. Volvo Cars’ next-generation SPA 2 modular vehicle architecture will be available as hardware-ready for autonomous driving from production start in 2022. The Volvos will have the Luminar LiDAR seamlessly integrated into the roof, and all you will see is a little bump in the back of the roof.

Cars with the Volvo Scalable Product Architecture 2 (SPA 2) platform can update with software over the air. If customers decide to opt-in to the upgrade, the Highway Pilot feature that enables fully autonomous highway driving will be activated once it is verified to be safe for individual geographic locations and conditions. “Autonomous drive has the potential to be one of the most life-saving 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.” In addition to the Highway Pilot feature, Volvo Cars and Luminar are also exploring LiDAR’s role in improving future advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), with the potential for equipping all future SPA2-based cars with a LiDAR sensor as standard.

Luminar’s technology is based on its high-performance LiDAR sensors, which emit millions of laser light pulses to accurately detect where objects are by scanning the environment in 3D, creating a temporary, real-time map without requiring internet connectivity. LiDAR is vital in creating cars that can safely navigate autonomous mode, providing them with the reliable vision and perception that cameras and radar alone cannot provide. LiDAR is the ideal basis for safe decision-making in complex environments at high speeds.

Luminar’s perception technology will enable the Highway Pilot feature. It will combine with autonomous drive software and the cameras, radars, and back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking, and battery power installed on forthcoming Volvo cars equipped for self-driving. Put together, this gives Volvo users who want access to a safe, fully self-driving feature for use on highways. “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.”

Volvo Cars and Luminar are collaborating to jointly ensure robust industrialization and validation of Luminar’s LiDAR technology for series production. Volvo Cars has also signed an agreement to possibly increase its minority stake in Luminar.

“Volvo is recognized as the pioneer of automotive safety, having driven standardization across the industry for the most advanced life-saving technologies,” said Austin Russell, founder, and CEO of Luminar. “The next era of safety lies within autonomous driving and once again, Volvo has taken the lead with a major industry milestone. 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.”