A lot of cars today have sensors that allow them to provide drivers and buyers with cameras and radar to help make things like automatic braking and lane-keeping assist. However, there is another type of sensor known as LIDAR that uses lasers that is incredibly expensive. Leading suppliers of LIDAR price it at around $75,000. Volvo says it has found a LIDAR maker that can produce the sensors cheap enough to justify installing them on its consumer vehicles, and they also claim that it will allow the car to drive itself.
In 2018, Volvo made an investment in a little-known LIDAR company called Luminar to build self-driving cars with the startup’s high resolution, long range sensor to build self-driving cars. Volvo has announced that self driving cars will be able to drive themselves on highways without any need for human intervention. These are planned to be rolling out in 2022.
It is an interesting plan, one that differs completely from their competitors. Many of those pursuing the manufacturing of self-driving cars are planning robotaxis rather than personally owned autopiloted cars. Their mindset behind this is that it will lower the cost of LIDAR over time as well as the cost of the computing power needed to make self-driving cars possible. Volvo believes that by doing this, and limiting the operational domain to highways, it is creating vehicle technology that is safer and less costly.
Using a controlled highway to allow the “Highway Pilot” and other forms of autonomous driving to make its way into society’s norms. Volvo’s self-driving cars are also ahead of the game in that drivers don’t need to pay attention to the road. Luminar’s LIDAR, along with other sensors, these cars drive completely autonomously without any needed human input. This is an interesting path for them to take as Tesla is criticized often for not monitoring drivers and forcing them to pay attention to the road. It has been shown that involving the driver has received positive feedback, whilst removing the driver has received a lot of backlash. Volvo’s complete confidence in Luminar’s LIDAR sensors is bold to say the least.
It will cost extra for Volvo to start this, LIDAR can cost as much as $75,000. However, Luminar is aiming to reduce the cost to as little as $500 for ADAS applications and $1000 a unit for autonomous applications. To reach this, however, Volvo is looking at concepts that require scale to lower price. For a large number of people to buy their product, they believe putting it on the consumer market is the way to go. Volvo’s confidence in LIDAR does seem to be in the right place, considering how advanced the technology is. It has accuracy and distance that Tesla’s visual sensors lack in comparison to LIDAR’s sensors.
The self-driving car market has always been something we saw coming. With the wide variety of ways for it to work, it will be interesting to see which one comes out on top, or the birth of a hybrid of sorts, a type of technology to take the market by storm, or how they all coexist in the future of robotaxis and self driving cars.