What is Volvo Ride Pilot?

Jessica Shea Choksey | Feb 10, 2022

As the auto industry continues to move toward electrification and autonomous mobility, Swedish automaker Volvo has announced Ride Pilot, a Level 3 self-driving technology intended to deliver an authentic hands-free driving experience for Volvo owners in the foreseeable future. The new autonomous feature will initially undergo real-world testing on California roads starting in mid-2022 and make its debut on an upcoming all-electric SUV, which will replace the Volvo XC90, the brand's flagship model.

Volvo Concept Recharge with Ride Pilot Featuring Luminar Lidar

What is the Premise of Volvo Ride Pilot? - Find the best Volvo deals!

Unlike other current semi-autonomous systems on the market, including Tesla's conspicuously-named Full Self-Driving—a Level 2 system that requires drivers to have their eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel—Volvo Ride Pilot promises hands-free and attention-free autonomous driving. Ultimately, the goal is to elevate the comfort and convenience of everyday commuting without compromising safety. After all, passenger safety has been the cornerstone of the Volvo brand for decades.

Practically speaking, Ride Pilot will free up time so drivers can focus their attention on secondary activities such as reading, working, or surfing on their mobile phones. However, sleeping is not encouraged as the system may need the driver to reengage with the vehicle in certain instances (more on that below). Ultimately, the feature's goal is to reduce driver fatigue associated with stop-and-go traffic and long highway treks so that drivers may arrive at their destinations rested and recharged.

"When we say self-driving, we mean self-driving," said Martin Kristensson, head of AD and mobility at Volvo, in a company statement. "So, this will be a feature or function where the car is actually responsible for the driving, so you will not need to keep your hands on the steering wheel, and you will not need to keep your eyes [on] the road."

How Does Ride Pilot Work? - Find the best Volvo deals!

Volvo's in-house development team collaborated with tech partners Zenseact and Luminar to bring Ride Pilot to fruition. While Zenseact brings the latest and most advanced self-driving software and programming, Luminar is a leader in lidar technology. The Ride Pilot system will include as many as five radar sensors, eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors, and a lidar unit to gather real-time information of the vehicle's surroundings and send all this data back to the self-driving "brain."

As a Level 3 system, Volvo Ride Pilot will act as a self-driving feature primarily for highway cruising. Although its full capabilities have yet to be detailed, the technology may also be applicable to byways and smaller roads. Navigating in-town traffic may also be a future component of its functionality.

One of the characteristics that sets Volvo Ride Pilot apart from Tesla's self-driving strategy is lidar. Because lidar creates an image of the vehicle's surroundings rather than capturing the actual physical features of the road with a camera, Tesla deems this technology as irrelevant for the future progress and development of hands-free systems. Tesla CEO Elon Musk once publicly referred to lidar as a "crutch" for autonomous technology. Conversely, Volvo's approach uses lidar for its reliable and real-time 360-degree scanning functionality of the vehicle's surroundings up to 400 feet in all directions, almost simultaneously.

Even after Ride Pilot comes to market, the technology will continue to evolve and advance its functionality. Volvo plans to deliver continuous over-the-air updates to its vehicles to accommodate future operational and safety improvements for seamless integration. In other words, buyers can remain confident their Ride Pilot system is always the latest and greatest version. Furthermore, Volvo says it will make the technology available via a paid subscription service.

What Are the Limitations of Volvo Ride Pilot? - Find the best Volvo deals!

Although Volvo Ride Pilot enables hands-free driving for extended periods, there are circumstances in which the system may not operate properly or to its fullest potential. According to Volvo, weather events that impede visibility, such as heavy rain, blizzards, or sandstorms, could prevent the lidar and camera systems from "seeing" the roadway and vehicle surroundings.

In these situations, along with other environmental or geographical anomalies, Volvo Ride Pilot will prompt the driver to take control of the vehicle via the steering wheel. If the system cannot capture the driver's attention, these kinds of systems attempt to automatically bring the car to a safe stop on its own.

When Will Volvo Ride Pilot Be Available? - Find the best Volvo deals!

Volvo Ride Pilot is currently undergoing tests on roads in Sweden. Later this year, Volvo will put the technology to use in California to see how it fares. Volvo chose California for various reasons: climate, roadway infrastructure, and a favorable regulatory environment for advanced mobility technologies.

Once proven safe and effective, Volvo Ride Pilot will officially debut on a new all-electric SUV, which Volvo plans to reveal later in the year. The technology will then roll out to other U.S. states and regions worldwide and should eventually make its way into Volvo's entire global model lineup. However, it could take years to realize this level of integration fully.

Summary

Car companies are making significant strides in autonomous driving technology to deliver a truly hands-free experience. Living up to its name, Volvo's Ride Pilot promises to raise the bar on current systems requiring drivers to keep their eyes and attention on the road continually.

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