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Volvo’s claim of having no fatalities in any new Volvo cars by the year 2020 is approaching its deadline very soon and this partnership might just help them stay true to it.
Volvo has produced some of the safest cars on the road. They were also the pioneers of a lot of safety equipment we take for granted in our cars today — the three point seat belt, curtain airbags and side impact airbags and a lot more. The partnership with Luminar marks another important step for the company. Luminar is one of the most prominent companies working on autonomous driving technology, aside from companies like Tesla and Google’s Waymo. Next generation Volvo cars based on the SPA2 platform will get a roof mounted lidar unit which will enable fully autonomous driving on highways.
What in the world is lidar?
Lidar is short for Light Detection and Ranging. I’m no engineer but here’s the basic principle — It essentially fires lasers in quick succession, these laser beams bounce and reflect off objects and provide data back to the sensor. Lidar is also used to find out the topography of an area, or in archaeology to find what is underneath the ground without physically touching it. It is beneficial in autonomous cars since it can more accurately provide depth information than a camera can. Now that you feel a little smarter, let’s get back to the topic.
Volvo says their new SPA2 platform will be ready for autonomous driving hardware from the get-go and might come equipped with a lidar sensor as standard. These next-gen cars will also be able to receive over the air updates, something that Tesla is very popularly providing for its customers. Over-the-air updates mean your car will be able to get the latest software even after your car has rolled off the assembly line and more importantly, get updates to the autonomous driving technology. There will be a Highway Pilot feature, on offer which can theoretically drive itself with no human intervention on the highway. However, it can only be activated once authorities verify that it is safe to be used.
“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” said Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer, Volvo Cars. “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 lidar sensor will also be used to improve the performance of Volvo’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which includes the blind spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Lidar will add a more advanced layer to these technologies that already exist in cars today, potentially making them more accurate and thus, safer too.
On the other hand, at Tesla’s first ‘Autonomy Investor Day’ CEO Elon Musk said “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed”. He claims that the technology is too expensive and does not provide any benefit over a camera-based system like the Tesla’s. With the first SPA2 based and lidar equipped Volvo hitting the roads around 2022, we will find out who’s made the right choice soon enough!