Apart from unveiling the Volvo Concept Recharge at the Tech Moment conference, Volvo also discussed a few technological advancements such as battery tech, software, and hardware such as LiDAR technology.
What is LiDAR?
It stands for Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). It emits laser that bounces off surrounding objects and returns to the sensor. The time taken for the light waves to return is calculated to determine distance.
Radar works in a similar fashion, except that it uses radio waves as its name suggests. LiDAR has a much narrower wavelength compared to radar and emits at a higher rate, which allows it to generate a more accurate image.
If it’s so great, why isn’t everyone using it?
Well, the biggest obstacle would be cost and that alone is enough to turn many companies off, understandably. But not Volvo. When it comes to safety, we all know Volvo doesn’t compromise.
Also read: We need to talk about Volvo, but not about its safety
How can LiDAR help in autonomous driving?
It needs to partner up with other hardware and software manufacturers. The LiDAR technology supplied by Luminar works with a host of sensors around the car while software is developed by Zenseact, which is Volvo Cars’ autonomous driving software development company. Meanwhile, the Nvidia Drive Orin system-on-a-chip provides processing power.
With all the hardware and software working hand-in-hand, it enables unsupervised autonomous driving. Now, Volvo does not classify the unsupervised autonomous driving in the usual standard of levels - the SAE L1 to L5 standard. They prefer to use the term supervised and unsupervised.
What’s the difference between the supervised and unsupervised?
To understand the differences between the two, let’s quickly touch on how Volvo distinguishes the modes of operation. There are three – drive, cruise, and ride.
In drive, the systems take a backseat to “merely” warn and assist as the driver assumes complete control. Cruise mode is what we’re familiar with today, with the systems helping to take over driving functions while the driver has to supervise.
Ride mode is where it gets interesting, as Volvo says the driver is free to do something else behind the steering wheel while the systems take care of all driving functions. This is the aforementioned unsupervised autonomous driving.
Did you say Volvo will be responsible for accidents in ride mode?
In a Q&A session during the conference, an interesting question popped up – “How does the regulators or authorities judge the responsibility in case of an incident? Who is responsible, is it the driver or carmaker?”
To which the CEO of Zenseact answered, “So when we go into ride mode which is unsupervised, then the car is in control and thereby the car is responsible, and in this case, Volvo is responsible.”
Does this mean I can sleep behind the wheel of a Volvo in future?
Well, when it comes to laws and regulations, it’s rarely as simple as it sounds. The unsupervised autonomous driving feature will be offered in limited regions, starting from on highways.
Volvo calls the function Highway Pilot and it will be activated for customers when verified safe and legally allowed for individual geographic locations and conditions.
But here’s the thing, would you put complete trust in a car? Or rather, should you? There is a deeper topic that dives into the ethical issues in autonomous driving, but that can be reserved for another day.
Also read: This 1,000 km range Volvo Concept Recharge previews the next EV-only Volvo XC90