My latest Forbes.com article explores the many facets and possibilities of the recently-announced partnership between Waymo and Volvo.
“Volvo and Waymo each announced that, “Waymo is the exclusive L4 partner for Volvo Car Group.” Waymo did not offer up any comparable exclusivity to Volvo. Indeed, Waymo has varying levels of partnership with Fiat-Chrysler, Jaguar, and Renault Nissan, which it mentions in the same blog post announcing the Volvo partnership.”
There’s a sensor angle, a ridehailing angle, an Uber angle, and even a China angle. Lots going on there. Check it out!
“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer for Volvo Cars.
That sounds a lot like Level 3 autonomy. The timing of this announcement is particularly interesting, coming right on the heels of Audi retreating from Level 3 — due to liability concerns.
The Volvo ADAS systems I’ve tested out in the past have always been quite impressive — in the top tier of systems behind Tesla Autopilot. If there is one way for competitors to catch and surpass Tesla, it might be exploiting the lidar technology that Tesla has famously eschewed.
Volvo and Autoliv are forming a software company. Sweden’s largest car manufacturer and one of its major auto suppliers are joining the movement of auto manufacturers diving headfirst into software:
Chinese-owned Volvo Car Group and auto safety group Autoliv said on Tuesday they would form a joint venture to develop autonomous driving software as automotive firms across the industry race to embrace the emerging technology.
The two Sweden-based companies said in separate statements the new company would have an initial work force of about 200 staff taken from both parent companies, a number that would increase to more than 600 over the medium term.
The joint venture, which is to be headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden, and had yet to be named, will develop advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous drive (AD) systems for use in Volvo Cars.
One of the big dichotomies in the autonomous driving world is between companies targeting Level 3 autonomy and those jumping right to Level 4.
Basically, this is the distinction between vehicles in which the driver has to be ready to take control at any moment (Level 3) and vehicles in which the driver can safely tune out (Level 4).
This situation is made somewhat more confusing than necessary by the fact that the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has put out a 6-level autonomy classification chart, and the Society of Automotive Engineers has put out a 5-level chart. In both cases Level 3 has similar, but slightly distinct, definitions.
That is the context for Volvo’s ongoing criticism of Tesla’s autopilot strategy, most recently enunciated by Volvo R&D Chief Peter Mertens in The Drive.
Every time I drive (Autopilot), I’m convinced it’s trying to kill me…Anyone who moves too early is risking the entire autonomous industry.
That last part is an interesting externalities problem. For every autonomous mile driven, in any car, there is a small but non-zero chance of a fatal accident.
There is a risk that a fatal accident, particularly a rather gruesome one, might prompt regulators to clamp down on autonomous vehicle technology and research, across all manufacturers.
In that case, by launching its autonomous technology so aggressively, it is taking a risk for which it reaps the reward but only partially shares in the cost.
I’m not sure that’s an ironclad argument — after all, at some point, some automaker will have to release autonomous technology to the public. So why not Tesla, and why not now?
But a lot of people, most vocally at Volvo, are worried Tesla is doing this too early and too aggressively, and Volvo isn’t happy about the risk Tesla is foisting on the rest of the industry.
“It gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is,” says Trent Victor, senior technical leader of crash avoidance at Volvo, in an interview with The Verge. “[Tesla’s Autopilot] is more of an unsupervised wannabe.” In other words, Tesla is trying to create an semi-autonomous car that appears to be autonomous.
Volvo has promised death-proof cars in the past.
Other related news is that Volvo will launch fully autonomous, Level 4 vehicles with 100 test drivers in Sweden next year. The feature will be called Drive Me.
Also, Elon Musk says crashes occur 50% less frequently when drivers are in autopilot mode, although it’s not clear if this counts cars that exit autopilot mode only to crash seconds later.
According to CNN, Volvo pledges that by 2020, all of their new cars and SUVs will be death-proof.
Volvo has made a shocking pledge: By 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car or SUV.
I also didn’t know this:
Fatality-free vehicles are not unprecedented. In fact, there already are some, and they’re not just Volvos. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are nine vehicle models — including the Volvo XC90 — in which no one in the United States died in the four years from 2009 to 2012, the most recent period for which data is available.
However, note that drivers will still retain the ability to commit vehicular suicide.
CNN lists the principal components of the system as:
Microsoft just announced that it will be partnering with Volvo to develop automotive technology. At best, this marks the entrance of one of the world’s great technology companies into the self-driving car market.
The text of the announcement, though, seems far more prosaic.
The stated plan is for Volvo to use Microsoft’s virtual reality technology to transform the car buying process:
Imagine enhancing your car buying experience at the dealership by viewing the complete inside of the vehicle you are interested in. With the power of holograms, we have the ability to open the car up completely, take a closer look at the engine, inspect the chassis or watch the drivetrain and transmission in action. Imagine viewing and customizing the car of your personal choosing, and viewing it at scale. You could have access to the full array of options, features and possibilities associated with every car make and model. Imagine then seeing the car you’ve configured, at full scale, as a high-definition hologram projected into your garage, long before the car has even been manufactured.
Perhaps this is a first foray into the automotive industry, a precursor of bigger things to come.
By itself, though, it’s pretty small. Transforming the auto buying process may not be a big deal if people stop buying cars altogether.