Volvo, with help from U.S. technology company Luminar, plans to offer fully autonomous highway driving capability on models starting in 2022. That is when Volvo will debut the next generation of its scalable platform architecture, known as SPA2, led by the newest version of its XC90 flagship SUV.
SPA2 models, which will eventually include the next-generation XC60 SUV and V60 station wagon, will be “hardware-ready” for autonomous drive, the automaker said in a release Wednesday.
Volvo wants autonomous vehicles to make up one-third of its deliveries by 2025.
Customers who chose Volvo’s optional Highway Pilot get a package of technology that includes Zenuity's Z2 autonomous drive software, cameras, radars, backup systems for functions such as steering and braking and Luminar’s lidar system integrated into the roof.
Lidar systems are regarded as essential to making self-driving cars safe because they emit millions of pulses of laser light to accurately detect where objects are by scanning the environment in 3D, creating a temporary, real-time map without requiring Internet connectivity.
Although numerous future Volvos, particularly those with a full-electric powertrain such as the forthcoming third-generation XC90, will have the capability to drive themselves on the highway, the system will only be activated once it is verified to be safe, Volvo said.
“We need a legal framework in place so we can homologate the vehicle,” Volvo Chief Technology Officer Henrik Green told Automotive News Europe. “Secondly, we need to verify and validate the portions of highway where we can activate the function.”
A lack of clear guidelines for autonomous driving solutions caused Audi to give up on its nearly three-year effort to introduce its eyes-off autonomous driving technology in its A8 upper-premium sedan.
The feature, called Traffic Jam Pilot, was the most significant technological breakthrough added to the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. Meanwhile, BMW Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said Wednesday that the automaker still plans to offer eyes-off autonomous driving in the production version of the iNext in 2021.
Volvo’s CTO foresees a roll out of the Swedish automaker’s technology that will mirror how mobile phone services came online in the 1990s.
“There will be a map with a couple of important commuter highways in key cities where we will begin and it will grow from there,” he said.
While Volvo hasn’t named those cities, Green believes the automaker’s longtime commitment to safety will be an advantage when working with various governments to get approval to turn on Highway Pilot.
“We have a really good relationship not only with officials in Sweden but also in the U.S. with NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] and in many other countries,” he said.
Green confirmed that when the system is turned on Volvo will take liability for the car. “We are saying that the car is responsible when it's unsupervised,” he said. “The driver is not in the loop.”
He also explained why Volvo steered away from calling its solution Level 4 autonomy. At that level a car can drive itself but still has a steering wheel and pedals so that the driver can take control when needed.
“Using levels does not correctly clarify what we are aiming for. This will not be a self-driving system that can take your door to door or drive on any street in any traffic condition or weather condition,” he said. “We are surgically defining the scope in which this functionality will be safe and secure. Highways are the best place to start because for a massive number of our customers this system will provide a useful solution for a very annoying part of their commute.”
Another reason highways were chosen is because they are more controlled environments than, for instance, a city center with pedestrian crossings and other challenges.