What if cars on the road simply couldn't hit people?
That's the future carmaker Volvo and LiDAR company Luminar are trying to create. The firms announced a major step in that direction at a press conference this morning. The companies unveiled a new Volvo Concept Recharge, car equipped with a LiDAR sensor mounted onto the roof. That piece of hardware will provide data about objects in the car's path. That information will inform Volvo's Ride Pilot system, which Luminar described as "an unsupervised autonomous driving capability for highways." Volvo plans to begin testing the system on California roads later this year.
Most carmakers developing autonomous vehicles — including Uber, Waymo, and Toyota — have included LiDAR in the suite of sensors their cars use to understand the conditions they operate in. Notably absent from that list was Tesla, at least for a while. CEO Elon Musk said in 2019 that, "LiDAR is a fool's errand, and anyone relying on LiDAR is doomed." The company didn't hold that position for long, though. Last year, a Tesla with a LiDAR unit was spotted in Florida, and reports circulated soon after that the company had signed an agreement with Luminar to incorporate LiDAR into upcoming versions of Tesla vehicles.
Self-driving cars have proven to be a devilishly difficult engineering problem, but this announcement from Luminar and Volvo might indicate that a future with fewer deaths and injuries could be just over the horizon.