Volvo’s awesome vision of the future: Intelligent cars that can drive and listen to you

The 2016 XC90 is one of the most advanced cars on the road, but it turns out the technology-focused SUV is only the beginning for Volvo. As the border between technology and cars gets fuzzier than ever – with electric vehicles, connected cars and semi-autonomous technology – OEMs are embracing tech in a big way. So what’s next? Alphr asked Volvo’s group CIO (chief innovation officer) Klas Bendrik about the future of cars and the growing role of technology.

The growing role of technology in cars

In 2016, the line between technology and cars is blurred, and that was most evident at this year’s CES. Usually dominated by laptop, smartphone and tablet releases, this year’s event also saw high-profile launches from the likes of Chevrolet, Faraday Future and Audi. According to Volvo, one of the companies on the frontline of the change, the trend can only be a good thing. “We’re working together with Microsoft [and] a number of other partners on some great stuff that will be in the pipeline in the months and years to come,” said 

Bendrik. “We see convergence between different industries taking place… consumers are actually getting a totally different and enhanced experience… and also new types of services into our vehicles.”

Volvo’s partnership with Microsoft

As you can tell from a look inside the new S90, Volvo has been quick to ride the tech wave, and has already partnered up with Microsoft, Apple and Google. The new Volvo XC90 is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but Volvo isn’t just using technology inside the car.

“We started to collaborate with Microsoft in a number of different areas. We were the first one [to] actually showcase how you can use the HoloLens technology,” said Bendrik. In November, Volvo used the Microsoft HoloLens to unveil the outline of its new S90, and the following month Volvo brought Microsoft’s AR headset into the dealership. Thanks to the HoloLens, customers were able to change everything from the trim of their car to the colour, all on a life-sized hologram of their chosen model.

Inside the car, Volvo and Microsoft have taken things further. At CES last week, Volvo unveiled new tech that allowed owners to command their cars using the Microsoft Band 2.

Volvo’s plan for electric vehicles

While most manufacturers are set to produce electric versions of their cars – and even hydrogen ones, in the case of Audi – Volvo has stuck to hybrids. So when will it turn to electric cars? “We’ve been very successful with our plug-in hybrids, and that is also what we’re focusing on in regard to the sport platform, including the CMA platform – so the large vehicles [and] the small vehicles,” said Bendrik. Instead, Volvo is sticking to the hybrid route, and keeping its options open as its model line gets updated. “Powertrains will develop accordingly and hybrids will be an integrated part of that. And, naturally, we’re also looking into the future of what will happen on the pure electric side.”

Safety through autonomous technology

Volvo has always been known for safety, and that’s no more obvious than in its “Vision 2020” statement. For the last few years, Volvo has been working towards the idea that nobody will be killed in any of its new cars by the year 2020 – but the way it’s doing that may surprise you. Safety features designed to improve your chances in a crash are being worked on, but, for Volvo, the main push towards 2020 is coming from crash prevention and semi-autonomous systems. “Now we’re also showcasing, at CES, Pilot Assist 2, which will be available on the XC90 and available to start on the all-new S90. It will now also be showcased in Detroit next week, and it actually enhances the capability of the car, with regards to adapt[ing] to the car ahead of you and follow[ing] the car ahead of you, including following the lines on the road up to speeds of 130km/h.”

In 2017, Volvo will also begin fully autonomous trials in Gothenburg, one of Sweden’s largest cities: ”We’re bringing 100 cars to be driven on normal roads with fully autonomous drive capabilities. [This] is a very important step for us to bring this into normal roads [and] normal customers, where we also take the liability aspects [of] full autonomous driving [into account], which was earlier communicated during Q4 2015,” says Bendrik.

It’s clear that the future will be a particularly exciting time both for OEMs such as Volvo and consumers. By gradually increasing the sophistication of its semi-autonomous systems and adding connected capability, Volvo and other manufacturers are using tech to make cars simpler and safer.

The Volvo XC90 (featuring Microsoft Band 2 voice control) won ‘Best overall product’ in Alphr’s Best of CES 2016 awards

Read next: Audi joins the hydrogen fuel cell party with a 600km-range SUV

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