On Monday Volvo announced their plans to bring hands-off, full self-driving capabilities to their cars. Full-self driving has the potential to be the most useful safety feature in cars since Volvo invented the three-point seatbelt in 1959. But is Tesla’s lead in technology insurmountable?
Volvo has always been a safety-oriented company. They’ve done well as not dying in a car crash is a very valuable feature. So it makes sense that the way Volvo talks about full self-driving is very different from Tesla. This isn’t about making money off robotaxis with super cool sci-fi tech. This is about saving lives.
Autonomous drive has the potential to be one of the most lifesaving technologies in history, if introduced responsibly and safely. Providing our future cars with the vision they require to make safe decisions is an important step in that direction.Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars
Volvo is taking the first step, equipping their next generation of cars with LiDAR from tech firm Luminar. Cars on the SPA 2 modular vehicle architecture will begin production in 2022, with the hardware for self-driving seamlessly integrated into the roof. Elon Musk blasted LiDAR tech for being too expensive. But with LiDAR sensors being integrated into the next iPhone, a consumer product that costs much less than a car, it seems like times are changing.
A measured approach
Volvo’s approach to developing FSD technology is very different than Tesla’s. They won’t be putting out a beta feature and trusting drivers to be responsible. Volvo understands that for drivers to trust an autonomous driving system it has to work autonomously, without intervention.
We are saying that for a particular stretch of highway, we are aiming for an unsupervised experience.Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer, told The Verge.
Tesla’s autonomous driving features work perfectly in some situations, and very poorly in others. It is up to the driver to be attentive and recognize when the system is not working properly. But for people who’s commute can be done 90% on Autopilot, it can be easy to get complacent. And there’s no way to know if the system might fail until it’s too late.
It seems like Volvo’s system will work differently. If a portion of your route can safely be done autonomously, your car can do the driving, and take responsibility for what happens. They can’t blame inattentive drivers for any errors. The system has to work perfectly, and it seems like if they aren’t confident it will work you won’t be able to use it.
Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so. 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.Henrik Green
I think this approach is better for everyone. It will help drivers build confidence in the system. It also finally answers the question, “who is responsible if an autonomous car crashes?” And hopefully, it will help them avoid some of the controversies Tesla has run into whenever autopilot fails to work properly.
The bad part is that it will probably take Volvo a long time to perfect. They’ll need to work slowly to ensure their autonomous driving systems work perfectly. But, isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t we demand that autonomous driving systems be completely safe before they’re deployed?
I just hope that Volvo is successful with its efforts because a full-self driving system from Volvo would make our roads a lot safer. I wasn’t too excited about Volvo’s future when I took a look at the XC-40 Recharge. But if Volvo can’t compete on range, maybe advanced safety features could be the ace up their sleeve.
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