As the auto industry continues to move toward electrification and autonomous mobility, Swedish carmaker Volvo has announced the Ride Pilot, a Level 3 autonomous driving technology that aims to offer an authentic hands-free driving experience to Volvo owners for the foreseeable future. The new independent feature will initially undergo real-world testing on California roads starting in mid-2022 and debut in an all-electric SUV, which will replace the Volvo XC90, the brand’s flagship model.
Unlike current semi-autonomous systems on the market, including the conspicuously Tesla-branded fully self-driving system — a Level 2 system that requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel — the Volvo Ride Pilot is an attention-free, autonomous drive. . Ultimately, the goal is to raise the bar for comfort and convenience for everyday commuting without compromising safety. After all, passenger safety has been the cornerstone of the Volvo brand for decades.
In practice, the Ride Pilot will save time so drivers can focus their attention on secondary activities such as reading, working or surfing the Internet on their mobile phone. However, sleeping is discouraged as the system may need to re-engage the vehicle in certain cases (more on that below). Ultimately, the feature’s goal is to reduce driver fatigue associated with choppy traffic and long highway trips so that drivers can reach their destinations rested and recharged.
“When we say autonomous driving, we mean autonomous driving,” Martin Christenson, head of AD and Mobility at Volvo, said in a company statement. “So this is going to be a feature or function where the car is really responsible for driving, so you don’t need to keep your hands on the wheel, you don’t need to keep your eyes on [on] The Road.”
Volvo’s in-house development team collaborated with our technology partners Zenseact and Luminar to achieve the results of the Ride Pilot. While Zenseact offers the latest and most advanced self-driving software and software, Luminar is a leader in lidar technology. The Ride Pilot system will include up to five radar sensors, eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors, and a lidar unit to collect real-time information about the vehicle’s surroundings and send all of that data back to the self-driving “brain.”
As a Tier 3 system, the Volvo Ride Pilot will act as an autonomous driving feature primarily for highway driving. Although its full potential is yet to be detailed, the technology may also be applicable to feeder roads and smaller roads. Navigating intra-city traffic may also be a future component of its functionality.
One of the characteristics that distinguishes Volvo’s Raid Pilot from Tesla’s autonomous driving strategy is lidar. Because lidar creates an image of a vehicle’s surroundings rather than capturing actual physical features of the road with a camera, Tesla considers this technology irrelevant for future advances and development of hands-free operating systems. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has publicly referred to lidar as a “crutch” for independent technology. Conversely, Volvo’s lidar approach for its reliable and immediate functionality uses 360° scanning of the vehicle’s surroundings up to 400 feet in all directions, nearly simultaneously.
Even after the Ride Pilot reaches the market, the technology will continue to evolve and improve its functionality. Volvo plans to offer continuous over-the-air updates to its cars to accommodate future operational and safety improvements for seamless integration. In other words, buyers can remain confident that their Ride Pilot system is always the newest and best version. Furthermore, Volvo says it will make the technology available via a paid subscription service.
Although the Volvo Ride Pilot enables hands-free driving for extended periods of time, there are circumstances when the system may not operate properly or to its full potential. According to Volvo, weather events that impair visibility, such as heavy rain, snowstorms or sandstorms, can prevent the lidar and camera systems from “seeing” the road and the vehicle’s surroundings.
In these situations, along with other environmental or geographic distractions, the Volvo Ride Pilot will prompt the driver to control the vehicle via the steering wheel. If the system cannot attract the driver’s attention, these types of systems attempt to automatically stop the vehicle safely on their own.
The Volvo Ride Pilot is currently undergoing road tests in Sweden. Later this year, Volvo will use the technology in California to find out its price. Volvo chose California for various reasons: climate, road infrastructure, and a favorable regulatory environment for advanced mobility technologies.
Once its safety and efficacy are proven, the Volvo Ride Pilot will make its official debut in an all-electric SUV, which Volvo plans to unveil later in the year. The technology will then be rolled out in other US states and regions around the world, and should eventually make its way into Volvo’s entire world-class lineup. However, it may take years to fully achieve this level of integration.
Car companies are making great strides in self-driving technology to offer a truly hands-free experience. True to its name, Volvo’s Ride Pilot promises to raise the bar for current systems that require drivers to constantly keep their eyes and attention on the road.