In certain U.S. cities, you might spy an Uber-branded Volvo XC90 SUV with extra rooftop sensors as part of the ride-hailing company’s fleet of self-driving prototypes. On Wednesday, Volvo and Uber announced a new production-ready XC90 that’s capable of driving itself without a backup driver, a provision the ride-hailing company currently employs.
The latest of Uber’s self-driving Volvo XC90s remains the current-generation SUV, but Volvo calls it “the first production car that in combination with Uber’s self-driving system is capable of fully driving itself.” Features include “several” backup systems for steering, braking and battery power, according to the automaker. Such systems can bring the self-driving XC90 to a stop should any primary systems fail.
Volvo’s public involvement with Uber dates back to 2016, when the automaker committed to delivering tens of thousands of autonomous-ready cars to Uber in the years to come. Volvo expects a third of all cars it sells to support full self-driving capabilities by the mid-2020s. Production status notwithstanding, it’s unlikely you can purchase the self-driving XC90 announced today. But the technology within will underpin a “similar autonomous base vehicle concept” for future cars, Volvo says. Cars on the next generation of Volvo’s widespread Scalable Product Architecture, or SPA, platform will offer capabilities like “unsupervised autonomous drive in clearly designated areas such as highways and ring roads,” the automaker continued.
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Whether regulations allow that remains to be seen. Audi once promised the new A8 could pilot itself without driver attention in low-speed highway traffic jams, but a patchwork of state and federal laws scuttled such capability for the U.S.-market car. Still, legalities haven’t stopped automakers from forging ahead on autonomous development. Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Ford is nearing an alliance on self-driving cars with Volkswagen.
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