Volvo plans on offering the lidar — and artificial intelligence-powered safety features — of its upcoming electric vehicle as standard, but the Swedish automaker plans on charging extra for its semi-autonomous systems, like the hands-free Highway Pilot.
Volvo’s fully electric successor to the XC90 SUV, to be revealed in 2022, will have two new components that have never appeared on a Volvo vehicle before: a lidar sensor produced by Luminar and an onboard “autonomous driving computer” powered by video game hardware manufacturer Nvidia.
Those two pieces of hardware will help enhance Volvo’s traditional safety features, like automatic emergency braking and blindspot detection, before the company is ready to start rolling out more autonomous features to customers, said Volvo chief technology officer Henrik Green.
“Standardizing the lidar technology and the compute platform will provide our consumers with a new level of safety in all the vehicles that are affected,” Green told The Verge.
Offering this new equipment as standard also gives Volvo a leg up on data collection, which will help with the inevitable push toward autonomous vehicles, Green said. “With this system installed on the thousands of vehicles that we will provide to our customers, we can harvest data and accelerate the development of the autonomous drive system,” he said.
At that point, the more highly automated features, like hands free driving on the highway, will come at a cost to customers who wish to update their vehicles. “We see a business opportunity, of course, to have that on subscription or as an upfront payment,” Green said.
Volvo has said that it will roll out Highway Pilot as part of its next big platform update, the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA2), which will arrive with the next-generation XC90 SUV in 2022. SPA2 will also underpin the automaker’s upcoming electric vehicles, the Polestar 3 SUV, the XC40 Recharge, and the C40 Recharge.
Thanks to Luminar’s lidar and Nvidia’s Orin system-on-a-chip, these forthcoming vehicles will have the ability to “see” its surrounding environment and “think” about its next moves with such accuracy that it can “override” the human driver in situations where a collision might have otherwise been inevitable, Green said.
“We know that the probability that we are right is higher than the probability of the human, which means that we can override the human in certain situations where we could see what otherwise [might] lead to a collision or an impact,” he said. Volvo’s current collision avoidance system, Green added, does not have that predictive capability and must exclusively rely on the vehicle owner to drive to the best of their ability.
Volvo is one of the few automakers to include lidar in its future production vehicles. The laser sensor used to be very expensive, with one company selling units for $75,000 each, but that price has come down over the years. Luminar, the Florida-based company that is supplying Volvo’s lidar, has said it hopes to price its sensors at $1,000 per unit, with the goal of getting that number down to $500.
Austin Russell, CEO of Luminar, said that Volvo’s decision to sell its vehicles with his company’s sensors as standard speaks to the importance of safety to the Swedish automaker. “When it comes to fundamental safety, the question is should it really be optional?” Russell said. “There’s no airbag upgrade package or seatbelt upgrade package.”
Russell said Volvo’s decision to include lidar in passenger vehicles will give it an advantage as the auto industry continues its slow progression to automated driving. “A lot of the other automakers really went all in on the robotaxi side of the game, almost ignoring the core passenger vehicle business,” Russell said. “That’s actually a real opportunity to see this happen and see this through.”