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Luminar Technologies has deepened ties with Volvo Cars to develop and eventually sell an automated driving system for highways to other automakers. The partnership, announced Thursday, is between Luminar and Volvo’s self-driving software subsidiary Zenseact.
The two companies are combining their tech to create what Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell described as a “holistic autonomous vehicle stack” made for production vehicles. Volvo will be the first customer. Russell and Zenseact CEO Ödgärd Andersson said Thursday they plan to also offer this system to other automakers.
It’s worth noting how Luminar and Zenseact define highway autonomy. The system they’re developing would allow hands-free, eyes free autonomous driving on highways. That means the driver would be out of the loop, and not expected to take over the vehicle. The transition between this level of autonomy and manual driving is a tricky one that has stumped automakers in the past.
“This is something that’s being solved for just in the next couple of years, this going to be available on vehicles that you can buy starting with Volvo and then expanding outwards — that’s the distinction,” Russell said in a webinar discussing the announcement.
The stack that will be offered to other automakers is called Sentinel, which will integrate Zenseact’s OnePilot autonomous driving software solution alongside Luminar’s Iris lidar, perception software, and other components as a foundation. The system is designed to handle highway autonomy and a number of safety measures to proactively avoid collisions with evasive maneuvers, reducing accident rates by up to seven times, according to Zenseact. The Sentinel product also has the capability of updating wirelessly, or over-the-air, to expand the operating domain of autonomy and further improve safety of vehicles over time, the companies said.
Zenseact might not sound familiar, but its 550-person team has been working on ADAS and software for years. Volvo created Zenseact after ending its joint venture with Veoneer.
Luminar and Zenseact noted that while the wider autonomous industry largely focuses on robotaxi applications, they are focused on delivering systems into series production vehicles. Lidar sensors are considered by many automakers and tech companies an essential piece of technology to safely roll out autonomous vehicles. As the timeline to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets has expanded, automakers have turned back to developing nearer term tech for production vehicles.
“The whole point of autonomous driving technology is to reduce accidents and save lives. This alliance enables us together to make that technology more broadly accessible and thus even more impactful,” Andersson said in a statement.
The announcement comes about 10 months since Volvo announced it would start producing vehicles in 2022 equipped with Luminar’s lidar and a perception stack to deploy an automated driving system for highways. Volvo has said it will take full liability for the automated driving system.