Volvo is developing the software needed for future autonomous cars – but the company’s CEO says it will be a long time before a vehicle without a steering wheel is sold.
The boss of Volvo says legislation that would allow autonomous cars to get rid of steering wheels is a long way off.
The Chinese-owned Swedish company is one of hundreds of automakers and tech companies developing advanced autonomous driving technology that can control the car without input from the occupants.
However, Volvo CEO Jim Rowan told Australian media last month that in the immediate future the technology will not be ready to get rid of the steering wheel or pedals that would be used in the event of an emergency situation.
“In the short term it is unlikely that there will be no steering wheel. Fully autonomous driving is driven much more by legislation than technology. The problem will be legislation,” Mr Rowan said.
The executive said fully autonomous driving may be limited to built-up areas where safer roads can be mapped, allowing drivers to take control behind the wheel when venturing into rural areas.
“Personally, I think full autonomy will start on designated highways, key routes, such as from the San Francisco airport to downtown,” Rowan said.
“Of course, if you then move away from San Francisco to go to Utah, for example, you’re probably going to need a steering wheel.”
Volvo has been more conservative in setting start dates for rolling out its autonomous driving technology than some other automakers, which were forced to back down from their claims after encountering roadblocks in development.
“We’re still a long way from a complete switch to autonomous driving,” said Rowan.
“It varies from country to country, let alone state to state, and we’ve been focused on investing a lot of money into developing the software to keep improving support for autonomous driving, right up to full autonomy.”
Mr Rowan says the company’s range of luxury cars – including the new seven-seat EX90 electric SUV, which is expected to cost just under $140,000 in Australia by the end of next year – means it’s easier to charge customers extra for autonomous driving technology calculate.
“We are not a mass market brand, we are a premium brand. And our customers prefer to feel like we’re building in that security technology, even if it comes at that extra cost.”
He added: “The technology is expensive right now, but it will become more expensive as we learn more about it.”
The Volvo EX90’s sensors for autonomous driving include lidar, which Rowan claims can “see 200 meters in pitch black darkness.”
US electric car giant Tesla last year began moving away from traditional sensors like radar for its autonomous driving technology — and has begun to rely solely on cameras, though some of the car’s features require radar to work, and it yet to be released replacement.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been an outspoken critic of lidar technology. allegedly calling it a “fool’s gang” at an event in 2019 – despite the fact that most global automakers are implementing the sensor technology in their future cars.
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