When you think of high-tech cars, you probably think Tesla or BMW.
But there’s another automaker that is quietly becoming one of the industry’s most tech-centric brands: Volvo.
For years, the Swedish car company has been at the forefront of introducing the latest safety tech into its vehicles.
But the car company’s tech savviness extends beyond just its safety systems. Volvo is also investing in technology and partnerships that will make its cars more convenient, efficient, and autonomous.
The company’s latest move includes a partnership with Uber to develop a new base vehicle for autonomous driving.
Here’s a closer look at how Volvo is quietly becoming one of the leading car companies in auto tech.
The company's Pilot Assist II, which will become available in Volvo's new vehicles next year, will do all of the steering and braking at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.
Currently, the company's semi-autonomous system only handles steering and braking for speeds up to 30 miles per hour on the highway and it must have a car in front of it to follow. So it's really only useful when you are in stop-and-go traffic.
Next year, the updated system will be much closer to what Tesla offers, allowing the car to do the steering and braking on the open road up to 80 miles per hour. It will also no longer need a car to follow to work.
The updated system will, however, still need clear lane markings to work properly.
The system will come standard in Volvo's S90 and be available as an option in the 2017 XC90.
Volvo and Uber have teamed up to develop base vehicles that work compatibly with all of the latest autonomous driving technology.
Both companies are investing $300 million in the project. Volvo will build the new base vehicles and Uber will then purchase the cars from the automaker.
However, Volvo will also use the new base vehicle for the next stage of its own self-driving car strategy, which includes fully autonomous driving.
The company is already testing its autonomous driving system, called Intellisafe Autopilot, internally. But it will launch a pilot program next year that enables real customers to test out the technology.
Volvo will launch its pilot program, called DriveMe, in 2017 in select cities.
During the pilot program, drivers will still need to supervise their vehicle while it's in autonomous mode. However, data collected during the pilot will be used to improve the system so the company can eliminate human supervision in just a few years.
'We will design and test for real outliers because just building and demoing a self-driving car, is not very difficult,' Eric Coelingh, Volvo's senior technical leader for safety and driver support technologies,
told Business Insider.
'But building a self-driving car and saying that an ordinary customer can get behind the steering wheel, that means that the car should be able to deal with all thinkable traffic scenarios that occur on the road -- extreme conditions in terms of weather and traffic scenarios, but also technical flaws in the system.'
By 2020, Intellisafe Autopilot will enable the car to drive autonomously without the driver's supervision. However, a driver will likely only be able to activate the function in certain areas that are well mapped.
Earlier this year, Volvo announced it had partnered with chip maker NVIDIA to use its deep learning computers to power Intellisafe Autopilot during the DriveMe pilot.
NVIDIA's platform for self-driving cars, which is called Drive PX 2, basically gives the car deep learning capabilities. Deep learning is a type of machine learning where computers are able to teach themselves by sifting through tons of data.
This way the car can learn to identify different objects and situations so that it can continually improve. But expect Volvo's first driverless car to be extra cautious, just in case.
'Designing a self-driving car is very much about dealing with exceptional situations. And I think we will have a self-driving car that, in the early years, will be a very careful and polite driver,' Coelingh told Tech Insider.
'Safety is really at the heart of this development and we will let the car drive with sufficient safety margin so if you miss a turn or something it doesn't become dangerous.'
Gradually, Volvo will also roll out some of the futuristic design elements it showed off last year in its driverless car concept called Concept 26.
Some of the features included in the Concept 26 are a steering wheel that retracts, a seat that reclines, and a console that can transform into a large screen.
While Volvo won't roll out all of these features in its first self-driving car, Coelingh said none of the things included in Concept 26 are that far-fetched.
'These are really simple things. Things like getting more space by moving the seat backwards, moving the steering wheel in, you can do all of these things with little effort,' Coelingh said.
'Concept 26 is pretty realistic in what you can do. It's not like you have a swivelling chair or putting in a dining table. It's still a car interior, but it provides you with a little bit extra.'
Volvo is interested in more than just self-driving cars. It's also investing in technology to make its cars more connected and convenient.
For example, Volvo's On Call app provides access to data about the car's condition and lets the owner control certain functions remotely.
Among other things, owners can use the app to view the car's location, fuel level, lock status, maintenance warnings, and to check if a window or door was left open. It can also be used to start the car remotely, control the car's climate, honk the horn, and flash the lights.
Next year, Volvo will introduce its first commercial vehicle that won't have a key. Instead, the key is the driver's smartphone app.
Volvo will integrate technology in its newer vehicles to enable over-the-air software updates. This will let the company seamlessly install safety updates and new functions.
It will also make customers' lives a lot easier considering owners currently must bring their vehicles into a dealership for software updates.
By 2020, Volvo aims for 10% of its sales to be electrified and by 2025 it wants to sell one million electrified vehicles. The company said in October that it will introduce plug-in hybrids across the entire range of its vehicles.
The company has not yet shared range details for its first fully electric vehicle, and it hasn't said which of its vehicles will be the first to go fully electric.
But Mats Andersson, Volvo's director of electric propulsion's systems, told Tech Insider that it would likely be a vehicle built on the company's Scaleable Product Architecture (SPA), which is the platform Volvo uses to build hybrids for its larger 90 Series and 60 Series vehicles.
By 2020, the company will also launch an all-electric vehicle for its smaller 40 Series built on its new platform called the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA).
Volvo's not just using tech in its cars, though. It's also introducing new technologies into its showroom to provide a better experience for consumers.
The company will begin using Microsoft's Hololens augmented reality headset this year in selected showrooms to give consumers an entirely new experience.
Instead of viewing customisation options on a computer, Volvo customers will get to see features, colours, and other options for different vehicles through the Hololens experience.
The augmented reality headset will also let customers experience safety features and semi-autonomous driving in a new way.
Without augmented reality the most realistic way to demo a feature like autobraking was by putting a customer in a real car and purposely trying to hit something. So it's likely customers will appreciate a safer virtual option.
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