What Is Volvo Ride Pilot? | Edmunds

  • Volvo Ride Pilot promises hands-free and attention-free full autonomous driving.
  • Volvo’s new flagship electric SUV will include all Ride Pilot ingredients.
  • Ride Pilot is coming to California first, then other regions of the world.

From childhood, human beings aspire to achieve hands-free driving nirvana. Kids around the world practice riding bicycles without holding the handlebars, and when they finally perfect the technique, they’ll exclaim, “Look, Ma! No hands!” as they careen past home.

Decades later, now grown and living the 9-to-5 dream, these same kids think about how nice it would be just to let go of the steering wheel, let their vehicle take control, and spend their commuting time doing just about anything else. Some drivers already do this. They’re usually seated in a Tesla, falsely believing that Autopilot or Full Self-Driving is what the technology actually does.

Volvo is a pioneer in automotive safety and knows better than to mix its messaging on autonomous driving. However, the company has officially announced its upcoming Ride Pilot technology, an “unsupervised autonomous driving feature.” Ride Pilot hardware will come standard on a forthcoming flagship electric SUV, and Volvo plans to introduce the software component in California first, followed by other areas of the world.

What is Volvo Ride Pilot?

Volvo Ride Pilot is a new autonomous driving technology. Volvo says it operates without driver supervision, meaning that the automaker takes full responsibility for vehicle operation, freeing the driver to perform other tasks. Initially, it will operate only on approved, limited-access highways, such as interstates.

While Ride Pilot is active, Volvo says the person sitting in the driver’s seat can safely check email, scroll through social media, view entertainment, or otherwise occupy his or her time with something other than monitoring and responding to traffic and driving situations. So is it a coincidence that on the same day it announced Ride Pilot, Volvo also declared that all of its vehicles equipped with Google Assistant built-in would offer YouTube access through the infotainment screen? We think not.

What level of autonomy is Volvo Ride Pilot?

We asked Volvo for clarification as to whether or not Ride Pilot is a Level 3, Level 4 or Level 5 automated driving technology. Volvo spokesperson Thomas McIntyre Schultz told us: “We do not use levels to describe autonomous functionality as we believe it is unclear for consumers. In all Volvo Cars, a car will be either autonomous (meaning the driver can rely fully on the vehicle to drive and use their time for something else) or not (the driver needs to be driving). Ride Pilot will achieve the former.”

Pressed further regarding Ride Pilot’s behavior when a Volvo encounters a sudden weather event, such as heavy rain, a snow squall or a dust storm, Schultz further explained: “The system is unlikely to lose visibility in a storm (as the lidar relies on laser rather than a camera or radar), but if any operating condition under which Ride Pilot is specifically designed to function is not fulfilled, the car will request the driver to take back control and disactivate. These conditions could include environmental, geographical and time-of-day restrictions, and/or the requisite presence or absence of certain traffic or roadway characteristics.”

So, yes, you’ll still need to know how to drive to address potentially difficult or challenging situations.

When is the Volvo Ride Pilot release date?

Volvo is replacing the XC90 SUV with a new electric vehicle that it will introduce in 2022. The new EV will include all components necessary to operate Ride Pilot, including five radar sensors, eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors, a lidar unit, and the software to control it all.

However, until Ride Pilot passes all internal validation testing and receives regulatory approval, owners of this new electric Volvo SUV won’t be able to use it. An over-the-air software update will activate Ride Pilot when the automaker and regulatory bodies deem it ready to use, and Volvo says it will make the technology available via a paid subscription service.

Why is Volvo Ride Pilot coming to California first?

Volvo customers in California will be the first to activate Ride Pilot in their vehicles. According to the automaker, California’s climate, traffic conditions and state government regulations provide a favorable environment for the technology. After California, Volvo will continue to roll Ride Pilot out to other regions of the U.S. and the world.

Edmunds says

Though we’re big fans of driving, we concede there are times when handing the reins over would be helpful. Volvo Ride Pilot promises to make that a reality in the company’s next-generation vehicles, and with an added level of trust, considering the automaker’s brand is essentially synonymous with automotive safety.