Uber’s next self-driving car, a hat-wearing Volvo, will start testing in 2020

Sweden-based Volvo and California-based ride-hailing giant Uber have unveiled what they brazenly call a production vehicle ready for autonomous driving. Developed jointly by the two companies, the SUV opens the next chapter in their three-year old collaboration. Don’t expect to see one at your nearest Volvo dealer anytime soon, however.

Like earlier prototypes, the model is based on Volvo’s second-generation XC90. It looks almost like a regular-production SUV, but the hardware attached to the roof rails confirms it’s anything but stock. Uber modified the XC90 with the self-driving technology it developed in-house. The transformation adds a bevy of sensors mounted on the roof and underneath the sheet metal that scope out the road ahead and feed data to the on-board control unit that drives the car. The firm stressed the sensors allow Uber’s self-driving system to safely operate in urban environments; it notably makes no mention of driving on the freeway, or in rural areas.

Volvo explained several back-up solutions programmed into the XC90 bring it to a full stop if the primary autonomous systems fail for any reason. While the joint statement announcing the prototype didn’t address how Uber channeled the lessons learned from the 2018 accident that killed Elaine Herzberg into the technology unveiled today, an Uber spokesperson told Digital Trends the firm took comprehensive measures.

“Before any software is released, and the code goes into a car that’s released on public roads, we put it through simulations. It’s a virtual environment for self-driving cars. Then, the car goes through a series of test scenarios on our test track. There are over 70 of them, and it has to pass them all without any safety-related failures,” the representative explained.

Technical specifications haven’t been released yet, but the flap on the driver-side fender suggests the XC90 is powered by Volvo’s gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid technology. It would consequently be capable of driving on electricity alone for relatively short distances.

The prototype will be deployed on public roads, but it hasn’t gone through virtual simulations yet, the representative told Digital Trends.

“The goal is to get these cars on the road in 2020,” Uber told us. The company added production will ramp up slowly while it determines precisely what it needs to do to ensure the prototypes perform as intended.

We don’t expect either company to put the autonomous XC90 in the hands of regular consumers in the near future. It’s headed for production, but it remains a prototype that needs to be operated by trained professionals.

Volvo has already announced plans to sell a fully autonomous car to regular drivers in the early 2020s. It will be built on the SPA2 platform the third-generation XC90 will inaugurate in 2021, and it will be able to drive itself without human supervision on highways and ring roads.


Volvo invented the three-point seat belt, and it might be the company that kills it

Volvo didn't invent the seat belt, but the firm patented the three-point configuration found in every new car in 2019. Autonomous technology will force automakers to rethink how they keep motorists pinned to their seats, and Volvo is…

Airbus-backed Voom could take on Uber’s on-demand flying taxi service

Airbus-backed Voom says it's planning to take its on-demand helicopter taxi to more U.S. cities this fall, a move that could put it in direct competition with Uber's app-based air taxi service launching soon in New York City.

Nissan and Renault are the latest automakers to ally themselves with Waymo

Waymo is partnering with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance to research uses for self-driving cars in France and Japan. This is the first time Waymo has considered deploying self-driving cars outside the United States.

Uber vs. Lyft: Which ridesharing app goes the distance?

Uber and Lyft have changed the way people get from A to B, and while these ridesharing companies provide the same service on paper, they operate in different ways. Here, we break down the major differences between the two.

What is Apple CarPlay? Here's all you need to know about iOS in your dashboard

CarPlay is one of two major infotainment systems currently vying for your car's dash. Here's everything you need to know about the system, including its feature set and host of third-party apps.

How the furious pace of innovation has sculpted the world’s fastest motorcycles

The technology that powers modern MotoGP race bikes isn't just inside of them -- it's everywhere. Literally every single part of the bike, from the brake pad coating to the shape of the gas tank, is painstakingly designed to make the rider…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Illuminated keyboards and a retro gaming console

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

What is Android Auto? Pull over and we'll tell you everything you need to know

What is Android Auto? Google's app overrides native infotainment systems to reduce distractions while driving. Here's everything you need to know about it, including the feature set and compatible car models.

The hottest of all Mini hatches is coming with a Batman-approved design

The Mini John Cooper Works GP concept first seen at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show will go into production in 2020, Mini has confirmed. The John Cooper Works GP is the ultimate performance version of the Mini Cooper.

Airstream inspiration Road Chief puts an off-grid luxury camper on the road

Updated for off-grid camping for four people, the Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways awaits your tow hitch and your wallet. Bowlus design, build quality, and technology in a world-class trailer towable by most mid-sized SUVs.

Ford promises exciting GT supercar news at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Ford will make an announcement regarding its GT supercar at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The GT's racing career is winding down, but could Ford be planning a hotter road-going version?

This ’60s Ford Mustang EV has Tesla-like specs and a Rolls-Royce-like price

British startup Charge Cars planted its flag where electric cars and muscle cars meet when it unveiled a battery-powered 1960s Ford Mustang. Starting with a reproduction shell, the firm added an electric powertrain and modern electronics.
Product Review

2020 Mercedes GLS shows what happens when unstoppable force meets immovable luxury

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is more than a luxury family-hauler. Yes, it’s got all the luxury features and all the bells and whistles of modern technology, but this three-row Teutonic tank has some serious off-road chops as well.

U.S. firm plans to power soccer stadiums using aging Nissan Leaf batteries

We've heard of aging EV batteries being repurposed to power homes and other facilities, but how about an entire sports stadium? An American firm is already doing just that, and now has plans to expand its system across Europe.