Volvo and Uber's self-driving production car hits the road

Volvo and Uber's self-driving car
Image credit: Volvo, Uber

Volvo and Uber have whipped the wraps off their first production car capable of full self-driving. The Volvo XC90 SUV base vehicle is kitted out with Uber's self-driving tech, meaning it'll be ready to take to the streets by itself in the future as part of Uber's ride-hailing service.

Volvo – creator of the three-point seatbelt – has tightened its focus on safety over fun in recent months. Earlier this year, for example, it announced that all its new cars will be capped at 180kph from 2020 onwards.

It's therefore no surprise that, in addition to the base SUV, its contributions to the autonomous XC90 include a raft of features to protect drivers and passengers. 

The car is equipped with various backup braking and steering systems, plus a backup battery, all of which should bring the car to a safe stop if any of its primary systems fail during autonomous driving.

“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. “By the middle of the next decade, we expect one-third of all cars we sell to be fully autonomous."

Lessons from the past

However, backup systems don't guarantee the safety of self-driving cars, as was made clear last year a pre-production XC90 in autonomous mode was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian in Arizona.

The SUV was equipped with Volvo's collision avoidance system, including emergency braking, but a subsequent report into the accident stated that the auto braking system was disabled while the car was in 'computer mode' to avoid erratic driving.

The safety driver was supposed to be alert enough to take control and hit the brakes themselves in such a situation, and it was subsequently decided that Uber wouldn't be charged with a crime.