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US driving fatalities fell to 10,590 in the second quarter, down from 11,135 in the same period last year, but they remain a scourge to humanity.
Swedish automaker Volvo, a perennial safety leader, thinks we can do better. The carmaker announced that all future models will be outfitted with laser-based sensors, known as lidar, which they say will cut serious accidents in their vehicles by 20%. Skål to that.
See The Light
Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing technology that uses pulsed lasers to create high-resolution images to capture an accurate 3-D view of the world. Cars outfitted with lidar can sense their surroundings and avoid obstacles like pedestrians, but high costs (a single lidar sensor can run over $1,000) mean the technology has largely been employed only by self-driving and commercial vehicles -- rather than as an extra safety feature in regular old human-operated cars.
Still, analysts expect the use of safety sensors will soon become more commonplace; in the EU cars will soon be mandated to come with obstacle-activated emergency braking capabilities by law, and companies including BMW and Mercedes have announced lidar in certain models.
Volvo, which became the first carmaker to introduce three-point seatbelts in the 1950s, is looking to cement its place as a safety leader:
- The electric version of its flagship XC90 sport utility vehicle, the EX90, will feature a lidar sensor that allows it to see "a black tire on a black road at 120 meters ahead, or a pedestrian at 250 meters," according to Volvo boss Jim Rowan.
- That will give the car an extra 3-4 seconds of decision time and will reduce collisions by an estimated 9% and fatal or injury-inducing accidents by 20%. Volvo added it is "intent" on rolling out the tech to all future models.
Lidar Contrarian: Tesla CEO Elon Musk has come out strongly against Lidar technology, claiming that "anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed...it's like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices...in my view, it's a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very hard to get out of." Instead, Tesla uses cameras and radars to inform its automated driving features – and presumably cut back on the doom.