2024 Volvo EX90 Will Be ‘Hardware Capable’ of Full Self Driving
Volvo’s first lidar-equipped car has it for more than just safety reasons.
The absolutely stunning 2024 Volvo EX90 made its full debut earlier this week. The all-electric SUV might just look like any other SUV sporting Thor's Hammer in its headlights (albeit, a bit more smoothed out for the electric age), but the thing that really sets it apart is a tiny roof-mounted lidar system.
Volvo's quick move to implement lidar in the EX90 makes it one of the first mass-production vehicles on the market with such a system. The high-definition imaging sensor is a key part of Volvo's safety strategy but is also the secret sauce behind its promise of vehicle autonomy—something that the EX90 is 'hardware capable' of achieving.
The EX90's sensor suite is comprised of eight cameras, five radars, 16 close-range ultrasonic sensors, and one forward-mounted lidar unit. Combined, these will give the EX90 the hardware capable of operating autonomously, according to Volvo. The feature, which is called Ride Pilot, isn't something released to the public just yet. When the feature rolls out, Volvo says that it will take a conservative approach and limit the feature to specific Operational Design Domains (ODD) like high-definition mapped highways and only operate in optimal conditions, though that will become more lenient over time as Volvo becomes more confident in its system.
"The Volvo EX90 is hardware capable for future autonomous drive when the software and regulatory environment allow for it," a Volvo spokesperson said in an email to The Drive. The spokesperson did not give an official confirmation if the EX90 would receive Ride Pilot, nor did they confirm when the feature would roll out on public roads, only that the EX90 would have the hardware necessary to achieve the company's goal.
Now, Volvo has a long history of choosing not to follow the SAE-defined levels of driving autonomy. A Volvo spokesperson reiterated this to Edmunds earlier this year and insisted that Ride Pilot—while not conforming to any particular SAE level—would, in fact, be autonomous.
"We do not use levels to describe autonomous functionality as we believe it is unclear for consumers," said Volvo spokesperson Thomas McIntyre Schultz in a statement to Edmunds. "In all Volvo Cars, a car will be either autonomous (meaning the driver can rely fully on the vehicle to drive and use their time for something else) or not (the driver needs to be driving). Ride Pilot will achieve the former."
McIntyre's definition would seemingly fit, at minimum, Level 4 autonomy, meaning that the person behind the wheel is not driving when the feature is engaged. If Ride Pilot handed control back over to the person behind the wheel should it become unsure of the environment, it would be downgraded to Level 3. And if the car could drive under all conditions (not just the ones defined under particular ODDs), it would be upgraded to Level 5.
It's important to point out that the actual hardware needed for autonomous driving is only a slim portion of what is actually needed to solve self-driving. There are plenty of safety, software, and regulatory hurdles to overcome that even seasoned pros are having a difficult time solving with lidar-equipped commercial vehicles on the roads today. If Volvo does roll out Ride Pilot during the EX90's service life, it's unclear if the vehicle will actually receive the feature. Though all future next-gen Volvos will reportedly include lidar moving forward, and there's a good chance that if other vehicles with the same sensor stack receive Ride Pilot, the EX90 may as well.
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