Many imagine the future of full self-driving to involve hopping into a car-shaped pod, setting a destination and kicking back and relaxing. But Volvo says it doesn’t expect to offer this level of autonomy any time soon.

    Volvo CEO Jim Rowan reiterated recent remarks made to CarExpert that while fully autonomous driving – referred to as Level 5 autonomy – may exist in some pre-defined areas, it’s unlikely to ever exist in its full form across all roads.

    “I think we’ll never get to the point in the short term… that there will be no steering wheel,” said Mr Rowan.

    “And the reason I say that is because full autonomous driving I think will be governed much more by legislation than it will be by technology, that in fact we know that we already have most of the technology, if not already here, then a roadmap within a few years to get us to full autonomous driving.”

    While he was bearish on the steering wheel disappearing, Mr Rowan was more bullish on our ability to fully self-drive in the future in designated areas designed to accept full self-driving technology.

    “I think full autonomous driving [Level 5] will start at designated highways and on key routes. So back and forth to the airport of big cities, for example, you would think that San Francisco Airport to downtown would be one of the first places that you would get a full AD [autonomous driving] set,” Mr Rowan said.

    “But then, of course, as you move away from San Francisco, you want to drive off into Utah, you’re probably going to need a steering wheel at that point.”

    Unfortunately, as with all new things, it’s likely to be legislation that holds up the deployment of this technology. There are still concerns around who is liable when things go wrong and also how this software and hardware interacts with other vehicles on the road.

    “I think it would be different by country to country, state by state in the US, but country to country even more so,” said Mr Rowan.

    “So for us, we’ve been focusing on…and it’s one of the things that we’ve invested a huge amount of money in right now, which is to be able to build that software stack that can be built to continue to improve ADAS, all the way up to full AD.

    “And then that means we are future-proofed in terms of how the market moves or how each market moves, whether that’s just ADAS and that legislation stops there, or whether they want to go to full AD and you’ll see the new ADAS improvements that we drop into the EX90 are pretty substantial on the road.”

    Volvo’s investment in developing its own software stack and moving away from using third-party supplier hardware and software means there is an opportunity for a new Volvo to evolve over time and gain more autonomous driving features as legislation catches up with the hardware that is currently available.

    Mr Rowan told Australian media in January he considered the current definitions of autonomous driving (AD) as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, ranging from Level 0 through to Level 5 to be “nonsense”.

    “This big method [that] there’s five different levels of autonomy, is nonsense in my opinion,” Mr Rowan opined. “You’ve got two levels of autonomy. One is your hands on the steering wheel, one is your hands off the steering wheel, alright?

    “Hands on the steering wheel is ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist Systems), to different levels of ADAS. The faster you can go, how quickly you can take the corner, automatic lane-change assist, automatic braking and all that stuff.

    “And we’ll continue [that], but you still need to have your hands on the steering wheel.

    “I think people have started to realise that [full AD is years off] and that’s why it’s no longer driving share value, because the markets have realised it as well, and the investors have realised it,” he said.

    MORE: Volvo boss: Autonomous cars a ‘long way off’, and people know it

    Paul Maric

    Paul Maric is an Australian car expert based in Melbourne, Australia. Paul is a founder of & formerly part of the CarAdvice founding team.

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