The future is coming fast.
Self-driving car technology has been around in some form for more than a decade. Early collision detection systems, which allowed for cars to detect other objects on the road and automatically adjust brake pressure in response, have been in commercial vehicles since 2007. In the last few years, however, massive strides have turned self-driving cars from a distant possibility into a real product.
Multiple companies have been racing to corner the self-driving market, including Tesla and Uber. Although most manufacturers have similar long term goals, there are a variety of different plans for how to get there. The eventual goal for these companies is to have fully autonomous vehicles that are capable of safely navigating to any GPS destination. However, there are several different schools of thought—both in which technology to use and in which commercial sectors are the most financially viable.
Uber made headlines in 2016 when it announced plans to begin developing a self-driving fleet of vehicles. Their stated goal has been to gradually phase out drivers in favor of completely automated cars. Although they were considered a driving force on the race towards automation, a fatal car accident in 2018 suspended testing in several cities and doubts about the technology's safety. Tesla made similar headlines back in 2016 when a fatal crash was attributed to its autopilot failing to notice a moving vehicle.
Fast forward to 2020, and the discussion has changed dramatically. Uber and Volvo have cooperated to produce their first line of purpose-built self-driving cars. These vehicles are special variants of the XC90 SUV that are designed to integrate Uber's self-driving systems. Concerns about safety have also led to a massive increase in features like automated braking, along with steering and drift protection designed to prevent accidents if the main components experience difficulty.
This development also highlights Volvo's own push towards self-driving vehicles. Although many other pushes for vehicle automation focus on trucking and ridesharing, Volvo seems to believe that the future lies in making the feature affordable for regular consumers. At the center of this push is the attempt to make the tech affordable enough to be mass-produced.
Volvo currently uses LiDAR technology to control its self-driving prototypes. Instead of using conventional cameras and radar, these cars use high-powered laser sensors to map surrounding areas and calculate driving routes. While initial testing has shown this tech to be more reliable than competitors, the $75,000 per unit price tag raises some hefty concerns about price. To combat this, Volvo has invested heavily in Florida startup Luminar, which is stated to make these LiDAR sensors for approximately $500 per unit.
Earlier this month, Volvo announced that new LiDAR equipped cars could be available on the consumer market as soon as 2022. While there no doubt remain legal battles over self-driving cars in cities, these ambitious announcements show that the technology will soon be market-ready.
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