Volvo and Uber’s new XC90 is built for plug-and-play autonomy

Back in 2016, Uber and Volvo joined forces to usher in the self-driving era by fitting out the Swedish automaker’s premium XC90 SUVs with the transport company’s in-house autonomous tech. The pair have now introduced the first production vehicle built to accommodate it from the ground up, making for a plug-and-play self-driving car that could help speed things up a little.

Volvo describes the newly revealed SUV as its first autonomous, drive-ready production vehicle. Based on its refreshed XC90 SUV, the vehicle comes equipped with a set of sensors to help it navigate urban environments on its own, along with extra backup systems for braking, steering and the battery. In the event something fails, Volvo says these redundancy systems will swiftly and safely bring the car to a stop.

Also built into the car is all the pre-wiring and harnessing needed for Uber to directly plug in its own self-driving hardware. This includes its autonomous driving computer, radar, 360-degree LIDAR and route box sensor kit. In 2017, Volvo and Uber built on their earlier agreement with a new deal that would see around 24,000 Volvo SUVs sold to the transport company as part of its self-driving pursuits. This new vehicle design is part of that agreement, and should make the process of getting them onto the road a little more seamless, at least in theory.

Uber’s progress in the realm of self-driving has been something of a stop-start affair. It kicked off in Pittsburgh in September of 2016 using Volvo’s vehicles, but then screeched to a halt in March last year after a pedestrian was killed by one of its self-driving cars. It has since resumed closed testing in Pittsburgh, but for now its autonomous vehicles aren’t taking to public roads.

This may be why it and Volvo place a fair amount of emphasis on the redundancy and safety features of this updated XC90. Volvo says it will use a similar version of the vehicle for self-driving cars of its own, which it plans to introduce sometime in the early 2020s.

“We believe autonomous drive technology will allow us to further improve safety, the foundation of our company,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars. “By the middle of the next decade we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous. Our agreement with Uber underlines our ambition to be the supplier of choice to the world’s leading ride-hailing companies.”

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