Everyone who lives here knows that January is one of the worst months to live in Sweden. Christmas is over, the days are short and dark, and the weather is well… Swedish. So when I was offered the chance to swap my thick down jacket (from -8°C) for a slightly thinner one (to a comparably balmy +10°C) for a week at CES in Las Vegas, you can imagine I jumped at the chance. But it wasn’t just the weather that excited me – for a Lidar Systems Engineer, attending one of the world’s most influential tech events (for the first time) was an opportunity I simply couldn’t miss.
For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to attend, here are my key takeaways:
In light of my job title, I was naturally curious to see how this technology is developing beyond Volvo Autonomous Solutions. In fact, one of the biggest trends I observed at CES was the widespread use of sensors – these are now being adopted by the automotive industry and integrated by the largest car manufacturers in new vehicles such as the Volvo EX90. Not only a good thing for on-road safety, this upwards trend will surely mean better, more robust sensors in the coming years – ideal for our autonomous applications, especially in quarries and mining where robustness outweighs distance capability.
As demand grows, so too does investment in the technology. I’m excited to see things heading in this direction.
Unsurprisingly, electrification was a hot topic at this year’s event, the main focus being electric vehicles, batteries and charging technology.
This is great news for us. Autonomy and electrification go hand in hand, especially in mining and quarries where the downsizing of vehicles has enabled us to incorporate battery technology to reduce emissions without losing payload or increasing costs. It’s our ambition to electrify all our vehicles, across all industry segments, in the coming years, so I’m delighted to see the industry booming. Like sensors, investment in battery technology will certainly lead to bigger and better things (or in this case, smaller and better things.) Smaller, more powerful batteries will have endless possibilities in a variety of autonomous applications. The future’s bright.
It wouldn’t be a blog from Volvo without a mention of our most important topic: safety. It was interesting to see that there were no Level 5 autonomous vehicles (in other words, vehicles that are able to operate safely and reliably on a public road) on display at CES. But not surprising, really. We’ve got a long way to go until we see cars roaming the streets alone, mainly due to safety concerns and regulation. A point reiterated by the panel at a media round table I attended: Automotive and the Future of Mobility on Land, Sea and Air. To us, the concept of ‘safety’ is defined by anything that cannot harm or hurt a human being. Most of our autonomous operations today are carried out in confined areas, meaning we can remove people from hazardous environments and control things more easily. On quarries, mining sites and at ports, our autonomous solutions undergo repetitive, well-defined operations, such as transporting material from point A to point B. In more unpredictable situations, like on public roads, building a system that is able to operate as safely (if not more safely) than a comparable human is what the industry is striving for. This is probably the most important, but also the hardest part of bringing autonomous vehicles to roads. So until manufacturers can ensure that a self-driving car or truck is 100% safe, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see truly autonomous vehicles on public roads any time soon.