Electric Volvo XC90 Will Get Lidar Standard

A battery-electric XC90 is on the way, due to be unveiled next year as part of the Swedish automaker’s plan to electrify half of its lineup by the middle of the decade, and it will pack plenty of new safety tech. One of those new bits of tech will be something quite unusual for a production car at the moment: a Lidar sensor mounted just beyond the top edge of the windshield.

Developed by Luminar, the solid-state Lidar bar will be part of a sensor suite aimed at reducing the risk of collision, risk that’s expected to be reduced over time as software improves and is refreshed via over-the-air updates.

Lidar, an acronym for light detection and ranging, bounces laser beams off objects to measure the distance between itself and its surroundings, painting a three-dimensional picture of the environment. Software then uses that image to detect and address various objects in its path. Lidar sensors have come a long way in the past few years, not only in terms of hardware but in terms of price. Not long ago Lidar sensors on autonomous prototypes were large and bulky can-shaped sensors mounted on roof pods, spinning constantly to paint a 360-degree view of their surroundings. Forward-facing Lidar has now been miniaturized enough to peer through a narrow glass window on the roof, while the cost of the sensors has tumbled from as high as the mid five-figure range to the low four-figures.

The automaker indicates that while previous versions of sensor-based safety tech operated by warning the driver of potential risks, upcoming safety systems will be able to increasingly intervene when needed, as the software itself is updated time and again.

“In our ambition to deliver ever safer cars, our long-term aim is to achieve zero collisions and avoid crashes altogether,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer. “As we improve our safety technology continuously through updates over the air, we expect collisions to become increasingly rare and hope to save more lives.”

The Lidar sensor is expected to do more than scan the road for obstacles. It will be one of several sensors forming the basis of Highway Pilot—Volvo’s Level 3 system that it will sell separately—one that will permit hands-free driving under certain circumstances. Volvo won’t be quite the first to offer such a level of autonomy in a vehicle, as Honda offered this level of autonomy in the Legend sedan that is actually exiting production soon, but let’s just say Volvo will be among the first automakers to do so. The system behind Highway Pilot was developed in-house by autonomous driving software development company Zenseact, while the autonomous drive computer will be powered by tech that Nvidia developed.

When it comes to the other big piece of hardware, the vehicle itself, we’ll see the battery-electric XC90 debut next year, alongside other versions of the SUV. That’s right: the next-gen XC90 sport utility is right around the corner, even though it doesn’t feel like it debuted all that long ago.

“Volvo Cars is and always has been a leader in safety. It will now define the next level of car safety,” said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive. “By having this hardware as standard, we can continuously improve safety features over the air and introduce advanced autonomous drive systems, reinforcing our leadership in safety.”

Should Volvo bring back some smaller vehicles, like the C30 hatchback? Let us know in the comments below.

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