Volvo Cars announced yesterday that in 2022 they will begin producing self-driving automobiles. The autonomous vehicles will use LIDAR in conjunction with a perception stack developed by Luminar, a Florida-based company in which Volvo made a strategic investment two years ago.
Using high-powered laser sensors is rare in the automobile industry. While many cars today are equipped with cameras, radar, and other sensors, which facilitate features like lane departure warnings and automatic braking, they are far less sophisticated than LIDAR, which is a portmanteau of light and radar. As the name suggests, LIDAR measures distances by using a laser light to illuminate targets before measuring the reflection through a sensor.
LIDAR is generally considered to be cost prohibitive. Leading suppliers like Velodyne charge upwards of $75,000 for the type of rooftop technology an autonomous vehicle would require to operate. Yet Volvo Cars has found a supplier that makes using them viable on its higher-end vehicles.
Volvo Cars initially plans to offer LIDAR as an optional hardware package on its second-gen Scalable Product Architecture (SPA2) vehicles, including the 2022 XC90. The upcoming XC40 Recharge and Polestar 3 SUV, which are both electric vehicles, will also use SPA2.
Although Volvo hasn’t announced the cost of this add-on package, which will be known as the Highway Pilot package, Luminar’s Iris LIDAR units cost less than $1,000 for a fully autonomous vehicle. They also have a more limited version for half the price, which can power more basic driver assistance features.
Highway Pilot is expected to be far more revolutionary than the advanced driver assist system currently used by Tesla or Cadillac. Autopilot, which is the brains behind Tesla, requires regular driver interaction in case a human needs to take over. By using Iris LIDAR, advanced mapping, and additional sensors, Volvo vehicles should be truly autonomous.