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Volvo partners with lidar maker Luminar to equip its next-gen cars

The partnership will bring Volvo's Highway Pilot system closer to reality.

Soon it'll be, "Look ma, no hands!" while motoring in your Volvo.

Volvo

There aren't a ton of production vehicles on sale that utilize lidar to facilitate their advanced driver assistance systems, but soon Volvos will, thanks to a partnership with lidar manufacturer Luminar.

What does this mean for you as a consumer? Well, it means that Volvo's next-generation modular vehicle architecture, called SPA 2, will be hardware-complete for hands-free vehicle operation (ala Cadillac Super Cruise), according to an announcement made on Tuesday.

Of course, hardware-complete is very different from being ready to operate autonomously -- ask Tesla -- but it's a big step for the company. Like Tesla, the SPA 2 Volvos will benefit from regular over-the-air updates, making it much easier to address bugs and implement changes.

"Autonomous drive has the potential to be one of the most lifesaving technologies in history, if introduced responsibly and safely," Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars, said in a statement. "Providing our future cars with the vision they require to make safe decisions is an important step in that direction."

While it's likely that Volvo's Highway Pilot will be an optional extra, it's expected that it will work with Luminar to equip all SPA 2-based models with lidar sensors as standard to enhance the capabilities of its existing ADAS systems (adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and similar tech).

"Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so," Green said. "At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction."

Now, it's unclear at this point how gradual that introduction will be, or where it will begin -- likely in Sweden where there's less, well, everything -- but if Volvo can pull this tech off, it will be a step ahead of some of its competition, particularly if it can get US regulatory approval, something that's tripped up rivals.

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