Sweden-based automotive manufacturer Volvo and California-based ride-hailing giant Uber have unveiled its production vehicles ready for autonomous driving that have been developed jointly by the two companies.
Uber modified the XC90 with the self-driving technology it developed in-house. The transformation adds a bevy of sensors mounted on the roof and underneath the sheet metal that scope out the road ahead and feed data to the on-board control unit that drives the car. The firm stressed the sensors allow Uber’s self-driving system to safely operate in urban environments.
Volvo explained several back-up solutions programmed into the XC90 bring it to a full stop if the primary autonomous systems fail for any reason. An Uber spokesperson told Digital Trends, “Before any software is released, and the code goes into a car that’s released on public roads, we put it through simulations. It’s a virtual environment for self-driving cars. Then, the car goes through a series of test scenarios on our test track. There are over 70 of them, and it has to pass them all without any safety-related failures.”
Uber Advanced Technologies Group chief scientist Raquel Urtasun showed off the company’s artificial intelligence technology that allows it to drive autonomously for long distances on highways without maps and “on the fly” and plots its course and navigates construction zones. “Our goal is get each one of you to where you want to go much better, much safer, cheaper,” Urtasun said.
The flap on the driver-side fender suggests the XC90 is powered by Volvo’s gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid technology. It would consequently be capable of driving on electricity alone for relatively short distances.
“The goal is to get these cars on the road in 2020,” as per Uber, adding that production will ramp up slowly while it determines precisely what it needs to do to ensure the prototypes perform as intended.
Volvo has already announced plans to sell a fully autonomous car to regular drivers in the early 2020s. It will be built on the SPA2 platform the third-generation XC90 will inaugurate in 2021, and it will be able to drive itself without human supervision on highways and ring roads.
Eric Meyhofer, chief executive of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, said: “Working in close co-operation with companies like Volvo is a key ingredient to effectively building a safe, scalable, self-driving fleet.
Uber is not ready to deploy vehicles without human controls, Meyhofer added, “We’re still in a real hybrid state. We have to get there and we’re not going to get to thousands of cars in a city overnight. It’s going to be a slower introduction.”
Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars, said: “We believe autonomous drive technology will allow us to further improve safety, the foundation of our company. By the middle of the next decade, we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous. Our agreement with Uber underlines our ambition to be the supplier of choice to the world’s leading ride-hailing companies.”
Uber’s self-driving technology programme hasn’t been without its controversies, though. In March 2018, a Volvo XC90 that was test-driving itself in Tempe, Arizona, hit and killed Elaine Herzberg as she crossed an unlit section of road with her bicycle – the first recorded case of a pedestrian’s death involving a self-driving car. Prosecutors concluded that Uber was not criminally responsible for the crash.
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