At some point, one stops questioning whether Volvo’s decades-long obsession with safety is a marketing gimmick or its raison d’être. Well, scratch that, Volvo’s raison d’être is being a profitable business, like every automaker, but Volvo also isn’t faking it on the safety thing.
Volvo, of course, is the inventor of the three-point safety belt, which it likes to talk about. Still, something I think about a lot is a time at the Volvo museum in Gothenburg, Sweden, when my guide — a very nice man of a certain age — said that his dad didn’t use the three-point belts because, in the years before they became retractable, they were mostly a nuisance. The lesson being, having safety tech is good and all but if it isn’t easy and intuitive — or, best, requiring the user to do nothing at all — then it might not be very effective.
Which is why I think that Volvo’s announcement Thursday that it would make lidar standard in its next XC90 is somewhat significant. If you read Volvo’s release too many times, it begins to sound like a re-worded version of a Tesla sales pitch, the difference is in Volvo’s track record, even if Volvo is a bit behind its own previously-stated goals. The other difference is with the use of lidar itself, which Elon Musk has mocked.
The fully electric successor to Volvo Cars’ XC90, to be revealed in 2022, will come with state-of-the-art sensors, including LiDAR technology developed by Luminar and an autonomous driving computer powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin™ system-on-a-chip, as standard.
By combining this state-of-the-art hardware with Volvo, Zenseact and Luminar software for the next generation of its well-established collision avoidance technology, Volvo Cars aims to reduce fatalities and accidents as a whole with this new safety package.
Once introduced, the technology is expected to mature over time, becoming more capable and allowing the car to assist and improve the capabilities of a human driver in safety critical situations. Whereas previous generations of technology largely relied on warning the driver for potential immediate threats, this new safety technology will over time increasingly intervene as needed to prevent collisions.
Volvo said that the lidar systems, along with software, will also enable Highway Pilot, which is basically Volvo’s answer to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability, the difference there being (so far, because Volvo’s is not out yet) in the marketing (Tesla’s system is not full self-driving.)
And while I say “next XC90" it’s not clear whether all of this will happen on a new XC90 or an XC100 or both. Still, the next couple years is shaping up to be the most exciting time ever in the EV space, as legacy automakers go all-in and semi-autonomous features grow ever more sophisticated. Volvo will have to prove itself like everyone else.