Volvo is quietly becoming a tech superpower
Volvo is quietly becoming a tech superpower
· By Cadie Thompson
When you think of high-tech cars, you probably think Tesla or BMW.
But there’s another automaker that is quietly becoming one of the industry’s most tech-centric brands: Volvo.
For years, the Swedish car company has been at the forefront of introducing the latest safety tech into its vehicles.
But the car company’s tech savviness extends beyond just its safety systems. Volvo is also investing in technology and partnerships that will make its cars more convenient, efficient, and autonomous.
The company's latest move includes a partnership with Uber to develop a new base vehicle for autonomous driving.
Here’s a closer look at how Volvo is quietly becoming one of the leading car companies in auto tech.
Volvo is sneaking up on Tesla when it comes to autonomous tech.
The company’s Pilot Assist II, which will become available in Volvo's new vehicles next year, will do all of the steering and braking at speeds of up to 80 mph.
Currently, the company's semiautonomous system only handles steering and braking for speeds up to 30 mph on the highway and it must have a car in front of it to follow. So it's really only useful when you are in stop-and-go traffic.
Next year, the updated system will be much closer to what Tesla offers, allowing the car to do the steering and braking on the open road up to 80 mph. It will also no longer need a car to follow to work.
The updated system will, however, still need clear lane markings to work properly.
The system will come standard in Volvo's S90 and be available as an option in the 2017 XC90.
Volvo has also partnered with Uber to develop self-driving vehicles.
Volvo and Uber have teamed up to develop base vehicles that work compatibly with all of the latest autonomous-driving technology.
Both companies are investing $300 million in the project. Volvo will build the new base vehicles and Uber will then purchase the cars from the automaker.
However, Volvo will also use the new base vehicle for the next stage of its own self-driving-car strategy, which includes fully autonomous driving.
The company is already testing its autonomous-driving system, called Intellisafe Autopilot, internally. But it will launch a pilot program next year that enables real customers to test out the technology.
Volvo will launch its pilot program, called DriveMe, in 2017 in select cities.
During the pilot program, drivers will still need to supervise their vehicle while it's in autonomous mode. However, data collected during the pilot will be used to improve the system so the company can eliminate human supervision in just a few years.
"We will design and test for real outliers because just building and demoing a self-driving car, is not very difficult," Eric Coelingh, Volvo's senior technical leader for safety and driver-support technologies, told Business Insider.
"But building a self-driving car and saying that an ordinary customer can get behind the steering wheel, that means that the car should be able to deal with all thinkable traffic scenarios that occur on the road — extreme conditions in terms of weather and traffic scenarios, but also technical flaws in the system."
By 2020, Volvo plans to offer Intellisafe Autopilot to the public.
By 2020, Intellisafe Autopilot will enable the car to drive autonomously without the driver's supervision. However, a driver will likely only be able to activate the function in certain areas that are well mapped.
The company is investing in artificial intelligence to power its self-driving cars.
Earlier this year, Volvo announced it had partnered with chipmaker NVIDIA to use its deep-learning computers to power Intellisafe Autopilot during the DriveMe pilot.
NVIDIA’s platform for self-driving cars, which is called Drive PX 2, basically gives the car deep-learning capabilities. Deep-learning is a type of machine-learning where computers are able to teach themselves by sifting through tons of data.
This way the car can learn to identify different objects and situations so that it can continually improve. But expect Volvo's first driverless car to be extra cautious, just in case.
"Designing a self-driving car is very much about dealing with exceptional situations. And I think we will have a self-driving car that, in the early years, will be a very careful and polite driver," Coelingh told Tech Insider.
"Safety is really at the heart of this development and we will let the car drive with sufficient safety margin so if you miss a turn or something it doesn't become dangerous."
Gradually, Volvo will also roll out some of the futuristic design elements it showed off last year in its driverless-car concept called Concept 26.
Some of the features included in the Concept 26 are a steering wheel that retracts, a seat that reclines, and a console that can transform into a large screen.
While Volvo won't roll out all of these features in its first self-driving car, Coelingh said none of the things included in Concept 26 are that far-fetched.
"These are really simple things. Things like getting more space by moving the seat backwards, moving the steering wheel in, you can do all of these things with little effort," Coelingh said.
"Concept 26 is pretty realistic in what you can do. It’s not like you have a swiveling chair or putting in a dining table. It’s still a car interior, but it provides you with a little bit extra."
Volvo is interested in more than just self-driving cars. It’s also investing in technology to make its cars more connected and convenient.
For example, Volvo's On Call app provides access to data about the car's condition and lets the owner control certain functions remotely.
Among other things, owners can use the app to view the car's location, fuel level, lock status, maintenance warnings, and to check if a window or door was left open. It can also be used to start the car remotely, control the car's climate, honk the horn, and flash the lights.
Next year, Volvo will introduce its first commercial vehicle that won’t have a key. Instead, the key is the driver’s smartphone app.
The Bluetooth-enabled digital key will make it so users never have to carry a key again. It will also allow owners to easily share digital keys with people they trust.
Volvo will also soon begin over-the-air software updates for its newer vehicles.
Volvo will integrate technology in its newer vehicles to enable over-the-air software updates. This will let the company seamlessly install safety updates and new functions.
It will also make customers' lives a lot easier, considering owners currently must bring their vehicles into a dealership for software updates.