The vision of autonomous robo-taxis is inching closer to reality after AV leader Waymo announced a new partnership with Volvo Car Group. The two companies have entered into an exclusive agreement that will see Waymo’s self-driving technology integrated into a new electric vehicle, intended for ride-hailing, built by Volvo.
As one might expect, Waymo’s focus will be on driver A.I. and the self-driving hardware, such as cameras, lidar, and radar. Volvo will be focusing on the design and manufacture of the vehicles themselves. Waymo will be working not just within the Volvo badge, but Volvo’s global brands, which include Polestar and Lynk & Co., as well. As of this writing, neither company has announced a specific launch date for their robo-taxi.
This isn’t Volvo’s first foray into the autonomous vehicle sector: the automaker already has an agreement to deliver vehicles to Uber Technologies Inc. Those vehicles are then in turn equipped with Uber’s in-house self-driving technology. In fact, it was an Uber-operated Volvo SUV that fatally hit a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018, stalling Uber’s AV aspirations.
Regarding Waymo and Volvo’s upcoming robo-taxis, the vehicles will be designed to achieve Level 4 self-driving capabilities, making them effectively fully-autonomous — under certain conditions. Level 4, according to the SAE, means that “you are not driving when […] automated driving features are engaged – even if you are seated in the driver’s seat” and a human driver will not be expected to take over operation of the vehicle should a difficult situation arise.
The specific conditions met for a Level 4 vehicle to operate in autonomous mode will depend on what its maker sets regarding geofencing, weather conditions, time of day and more. Even though a Level 4 can’t theoretically operate under every conceivable condition, pedals and a steering wheel do not necessarily need to be installed. With few details currently available, it’s hard to imagine what this Waymo-Volvo collaboration vehicle will end up looking like.
If one thing is certain, we’ll see more partnerships like this as the race for AV domination heats up. Volvo Car Group CTO Henrik Green said in a statement, “fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve road safety to previously unseen levels and to revolutionize the way people live, work and travel. Our partnership with Waymo opens up new and exciting business opportunities for Volvo Cars, Polestar and Lynk & Co.” As Allied Market Research predicted that the global autonomous vehicle market should reach a value of $557 billion by 2026, it seems Volvo is positioning itself well for this burgeoning sector.
Header image courtesy Waymo