Genuine self-driving capability is allegedly ready, but it's being held back by legislation.
According to Volvo's CEO, Jim Rowan, fully self-driving cars are a long way off, but it's not because the technology isn't ready, but rather that legislation is prohibitive. He even went so far as to slam the current SAE autonomous driving (AD) ratings as "nonsense."
Rowan spoke to Australia's Car Expert recently and lashed out at the Level 0 to Level 5 classifications as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. "This big method [that] there's five different levels of autonomy is nonsense, in my opinion," said Rowan. "You've got two levels of autonomy. One is your hands on the steering wheel, one is your hands off the steering wheel, alright?"
This is an odd statement from a manufacturer on the verge of introducing the EX90, which is already equipped with all the hardware it needs to drive itself. Volvo also has an entire department dedicated to autonomous solutions and recently announced a partnership with Uber to develop self-driving trucks.
The problem, according to Rowan, is legislation. "I think regulation will be the barrier towards full adoption of full AD more than technology will," said Rowan. "You're going to have the computational power, you're going to have the software that can do it, and maybe it starts off on a highway in certain areas, probably California, designated lanes on the highway, designated routes from the airport to downtown," he said.
Rowan thinks that full self-driving will likely emerge in the taxi industry first, "but driving inside a city where there are schools, and roadworks, where there's a lot of change every day? I think that's a long, long way off," Rowan explained.
This matches up with a new technology called Automated Driving Zones, developed by Here Technologies. It debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show and is a way for manufacturers to get around several central ethical problems surrounding autonomous driving.
"Technology-wise, I'm pretty confident that we will have the technology in order to [implement autonomous driving] when legislation allows that to happen in certain conditions," said Rowan. We're not sure whether he's referring to Here Technologies' solution, but he's making the same point.
Rowan also fired a shot across the bow of Tesla. "I think people have started to realize that [full self-driving is years away], and that's why it's no longer driving share value, because the markets have realized it as well, and the investors have realized it," he explained. This follows shortly after California banned Tesla from using the name Full Self-Driving for being misleading.
According to Rowan, share prices will depend on whether car companies equip their cars with the right technology to make them future-proof. Another big driver will be the software and intellectual property driving these features and the differentiation between them. Rowan also mentions licensing software out to create another income stream.
As mentioned earlier, the Volvo EX90 is already equipped with LiDAR, radar and cameras, and over-the-air updates, which means it's self-driving-ready. For now, it's waiting for legislation to catch up.