During the Automobility LA Fair in the US, Volvo showcased what self-driving car enthusiasts have been waiting for. Are you ready? Since we find joy in reporting on major technological developments in Sweden, this was something we were all waiting for. As soon as we heard the rumours from a WIRED article back in June with reports that Volvo was teaming up with the highly-praised, laser-vision startup Luminar, we knew that it would be a force to be reckoned with. These news were perhaps overshadowed two weeks ago by the recent announcement of a fully electric mining site in Sweden. It’s safe to say that Volvo continues its innovative actions in multiple areas of society. We are ready, are you? To be able to have self-driving cars, there is a special area of technology that needs to be mastered for it to become reality, and that special area is called LiDAR. We wrote about an interesting venture earlier in the year called Skyeer that is also basing itself on much of the technology, but in an entirely different field. The great thing about LiDAR is that its applications are endless. We will go by the same definition as we used back then to remind ourselves what LiDAR means. Meaning “light-detection and ranging“ the technique uses laser light as a process of typification of the Earth’s surface whereby accurate information is determined through x, y and z coordinates. Its applications have been ever-expanding since the 1960’s and it’s no surprise that Volvo is expanding the field evermore.
We’ve reported throughout the year about Volvo’s attempts at bringing forward autonomous cars, but two weeks ago during the Automobility LA Fair in the US, Volvo was able to simplify their achievements into an “understandable form”. Usually with such presentations, some leave more confused than when they enter, but according to reports, it was clear and precise. Together with the technology company Luminar, they showed us how far they have managed to come in this development. Volvo Cars claims to be able to detect arms, legs and different body positions on people in the traffic environment. According to the company, no one has previously identified objects with such detail and accuracy in the type of sensor that Luminar develops. Luminar’s sensor claims significantly higher performance than its competitors, including a ten times longer range (!). This summer, Volvo Cars invested in Luminar but they engaged in technology development together before the investment itself.
The technique is a kind of radar that base itself on the same pulsating laser signals to orient itself in the surroundings, just like a bat will find the way to send out ultrasound that bounces back when they hit different objects. LiDAR is a necessity for self-propelled cars and often sits on the roof of autonomous test vehicles. Velodyne has previously been the dominant supplier, and their latest system has 128 laser beams that can generate several million data points per second. But why did they change to Luminar? Well.. they’re taking things to the next level.
Now, Volvo and Luminar have counteracted a system that allows detecting human poses, including individual body parts – for example, arms and legs. It is a level of detail that previously has not been possible in this range of sensor types. It even detects objects at 250 meters distance which is significantly longer than currently available technology of the same sort. With its ability to reliably read the surroundings at a long distance, autonomous cars can safely navigate in complex traffic environments – and at higher speeds.
“Autonomous technology will take safe driving to a new level beyond human constraints. This promise to improve safety is the reason why Volvo Cars wants to be a leader in autonomous driving. In the end, technology will also create benefits for the customers and society as a whole. Luminar shares our ambition to realize these benefits, and the new perception technique is an important next step in that process, ” – Henrik Green, Senior Vice President for Research and Development at Volvo Cars in a press release.
Volvo is the first of Luminar’s partners to fully utilize the development platform for enhanced perception. The technology will help the car manufacturer to realize his vision for autonomous travel, as featured earlier in the Volvo 360c.
“The Volvo Cars R&D team is working at an impressive pace to solve some of the most advanced issues regarding the development of autonomous driving. As we have scaled up, they are still at the forefront of developing an autonomous system that removes the driver from the equation – and ultimately enables the integration of the technology into physical vehicles for consumers, says Austin Russell, founder and CEO of Luminar . This all sounds very interesting, and we agree that this can significantly change the way we look at this technology. The 360c concept is a vision of four potential uses for autonomous vehicles: an environment for sleeping in, mobile office, living room and a place of entertainment – uses that are thought to redefine how we travel. 360c also introduces a draft global standard for how autonomous vehicles can communicate securely with all other road users. In LA, a special virtual reality station 360c and Volvo Cars demonstrate a vision of autonomous travel. Will Volvo and Luminar make an effective team? Well, they’ve had a fantastic start. Evolvera – evolve in the next era.