Volvo to debut autonomous driving tech in California

Europe

Volvo Cars will make what it calls “unsupervised autonomous driving” available first to customers in the U.S. state of California before rolling it out in other markets.

The official launch of the automaker’s so-called Ride Pilot is pending Volvo’s internal verification that it is safe as well as approvals for use from local authorities in the different markets, the company said in a release Wednesday.

Testing of the technology in California is scheduled to start by the middle of this year, with densely populated areas such as Los Angeles or San Francisco being top candidates, Volvo Chief Product Officer Henrik Green told Automotive News Europe.

Volvo is already road testing autonomous driving features in Sweden as well as collecting for its future system across Europe and the U.S.

Subscriptions sought

Ride Pilot will be available as an add-on subscription on the automaker’s forthcoming full-electric flagship SUV, that will go into production later this year at Volvo’s U.S. factory near Charleston, South Carolina.

Volvo says the vehicle’s name will deviate from the company’s long tradition of using letter and number combinations, opting for a name that one would give to a child, CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in July. He told ANE in October that the name will start with a vowel.

Green said Volvo is still debating what to charge for Ride Pilot, which the company anticipates it will be very popular once it is more widely available.

“Once you can really provide an unsupervised experience, it’s going to be highly valuable,” he said.

He pointed out, though, that every one of the new SUVs that Volvo builds will be equipped with the necessary hardware to make Ride Pilot work, regardless of where the vehicles are sold.

That standard hardware includes five radars, eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors, and, for the first time in a Volvo, a lidar sensor, which come from the automaker’s California-based technology partner, Luminar.

Lidar uses laser light pulses to create precise images of the environment around the car, something that is considered essential for autonomous driving.

The new SUV will get its autonomous driving software from Volvo subsidiary Zenseact, which was formed in October 2020 from the pieces of Volvo and supplier Veoneer’s former automotive software joint venture, Zenuity.

Avoiding levels

Volvo purposely avoided using the zero to five level system created by the Society of Automobile Engineers for driving automation because Green says it causes confusion.

Based on the SAE’s definitions, Level 3 and Level 4 systems “can drive the vehicle under limited conidtion and will not operate unless all reuired conditions are met.”

Ride Pilot will initially only be operational on highways and Volvo envisions it reducing the mental strain of driving in heavy traffic. When the system is engaged Volvo says is takes over responsible for the driving.

A key requirement of a Level 3 system, according to SAE’s guidelines, is that the driver must be ready to take back control upon request.

Green said Volvo estimates the Ride Pilot system will provide an 8- to 10-second warning to the driver before handing back control.

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