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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Volvo Cars is preparing to launch its first fully self-driving technology for highways using lidar and perception technology provided by Luminar, an ambitious tech startup.

Why it matters: The partnership is a major milestone for both companies.

  • Unlike other hands-off highway driving systems, Volvo's technology would allow drivers to truly relax — taking their eyes off the road — while the car assumes full responsibility for driving.
  • The deal is Luminar's first production contract and a huge vote of confidence in its lidar system, which works with radar and camera sensors to help self-driving cars understand their environment.

Details: The system will debut as an option on Volvo's next-generation vehicles, starting in 2022, likely with the XC90 crossover.

  • The cars will be "hardware-ready" for autonomous drive, with the Luminar lidar seamlessly integrated into the roof — a huge design leap over the spinning contraptions mounted on today's self-driving test vehicles.
  • Using over-the-air software updates, the optional Highway Pilot feature will be activated once it is verified to be safe for specific locations and road conditions.
  • The companies are also exploring the use of lidar to improve future advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

How it works: There will be no ambiguity about when the driver needs to pay attention, says Patrik Björler, director of autonomous drive and mobility strategy at Volvo Cars.

  • "Either you are responsible for driving the car, or we are in autonomous mode," he tells Axios.
  • When the autonomous mode is activated, Volvo is fully liable for driving and the human driver can take their eyes off the road.

What's next: The companies said they'll deepen their collaboration to jointly ensure Luminar can manufacture and validate its lidar system for series production.

  • Volvo Cars also has an option to increase its minority stake in Luminar, which has raised $250 million to date.

Go deeper

Expert: Policy for autonomous vehicle industry is "like the Wild West"

Joann Muller (R) and Selika Josiah Talbott (L). Photo: Axios screenshot

A lack of federal policy has hampered the autonomous car industry's transparency with communities where the vehicles are tested, American University professor Selika Josiah Talbott said during a virtual Axios event on Tuesday.

What she's saying: "We need guidelines. Right now, it's like the Wild West. We need bumpers in place so we don't have rogue actions testing vehicles on the roadway and possibly causing harm to the general public," Talbott said.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
44 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry,

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

The rebellion against Silicon Valley (the place)

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Silicon Valley may be a "state of mind," but it's also very much a real enclave in Northern California. Now, a growing faction of the tech industry is boycotting it.

Why it matters: The Bay Area is facing for the first time the prospect of losing its crown as the top destination for tech workers and startups — which could have an economic impact on the region and force it to reckon with its local issues.