Volvo has been developing self-driving cars for several years and in 2015 teamed up with fellow Swedish firm Autoliv, an automotive supplier specializing in safety systems, to share research to accelerate the development of the technology.
On Tuesday, Volvo and Autoliv announced the formation of a joint venture called Zenuity to develop self-driving technology, specifically the software that controls a vehicle when in self-driving mode. Zenuity will initially develop driver assist systems and eventually a full self-driving system.
Headed by Dennis Nobelius, the joint venture has around 200 staff at present but this is expected to be expanded to 600 in the medium term. The headquarters are located in Gothenburg, Sweden while additional facilities are in Munich, Germany and Detroit, Michigan.
Volvo Drive Me autonomous car pilot project in Gothenburg, Sweden
Zenuity’s first driver assist systems will be made available by 2019, including to other automakers. Volvo and Autoliv estimate that a self-driving system, likely for highway driving, will be available shortly after this date. Some Volvo models already offer self-driving systems, though these still require a driver to monitor and take over in certain situations.
Of course, Zenuity will be going up against some stiff competition. Rival automakers BMW, Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F], General Motors Company [NYSE:GM], Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla [NSDQ:TSLA], Toyota and the Volkswagen Group have all announced plans to develop self-driving systems, and major suppliers, for example Continental and Delphi, have so as well. Tech firms are also in the race, for example Google, Nvidia, Uber and most likely Apple.
Until now, Volvo has been developing self-driving technology under its Drive Me project. As part of the project, 100 Volvo XC90 prototypes fitted with the automaker’s self-driving technology will be lent out to participating customers in Gothenburg during 2017. The customers will drive the prototypes in everyday conditions, including on approximately 31 miles of selected roads where the vehicles are able to operate in full self-driving mode.