Self-Driving Cars

Volvo, Waymo form partnership to create self-driving electric robotaxis

Volvo is moving forward to electrification plans for its fleet.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volvo Car Group and Waymo have announced that the tech company has become the "exclusive global L4 partner" for the automaker. The deal applies to Volvo Group's sub-brands including Volvo Cars, Link & Co., and Polestar.

"Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve road safety to previously unseen levels and to revolutionize the way people live, work and travel," said Volvo CTO Henrik Green. "Our global partnership with Waymo opens up new and exciting business opportunities."

2020 Volvo XC90Volvo has been testing self-driving capabilities on models in Sweden.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

The "L4" in the agreement refers to Level 4 of the Society of Automotive Engineers self-driving standards. These standards are widely accepted as the measuring stick for advanced driving technologies. Under Level 4 guidelines, vehicles can operate without a driver, but only in a specific geographic location and in certain conditions. This means that you're more likely to see these self-driving vehicles in Las Vegas, San Diego, or Phoenix than in Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Boston.

Volvo joins FCA, Jaguar Land Rover, and Nissan-Renault in committing to Waymo technology. The company is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google. It's origins stretch back to 2009. Seven years late the company would split from Google and become its own subsidiary. In 2018 the company launched a self-driving taxi service in Phoenix.

A previous plan for self-driving vehicle technology included Volvo partnering with Uber was scrapped after that company was embroiled in a public relations and technology nightmare when one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Phoenix. Uber continues to use Volvo XC90 SUVs to test its automated driving technology.

Volvo has already promised that the next-gen XC90 will have LiDAR sensors that enable it to drive hands-free under certain roadway and location restrictions. Similar technology is already available in Cadillac products (Super Cruise) and Ford has unveiled Active Drive Assist for its Mustang Mach-E and F-150. Tesla's Autopilot is, despite its name, not a hands-free system.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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Volvo will install 60 ChargePoint chargers at Starbucks locations in the west and Northwest.

Volvo

Volvo plans to be an electric-only automaker by 2030, and along the way to that goal, the automaker is investing in services and infrastructure to support its vehicles. Today, Volvo announced a partnership with coffee giant Starbucks that will provide dozens of chargers at coffee shops in the west and northwest U.S.

As part of the deal, Volvo will install up to 60 company-branded chargers at up to 15 Starbucks stores on the route between Denver and Seattle. Volvo says it aims to install charging locations every 100 miles along the 1,350-mile route between the Mile-High City and Starbucks hometown of Seattle.

Volvo-Starbucks PartnershipVolvo's goal is to install a charger every 100 miles. Volvo

Though they'll have Volvo's name on the front, the chargers are from ChargePoint, and drivers will use a built-in ChargePoint app to access services. The function is available in the vehicle's infotainment system, and will help locate and use the chargers. Volvo says all EV drivers will be able to access the chargers for a fee, but notes that its owners will get free or discounted charging.

A Volvo-Starbucks partnership isn't as crazy as it sounds at first. Beyond the fact that there's likely quite a bit of overlap in both brands' customers, the move furthers Starbucks' sustainability goals and provides Volvo owners with a free or low-cost charging solution. The project should be done by the end of this year, so keep your eyes open if you're getting coffee in a Volvo EV in the area.

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