Tony O'Kane | May 20, 2016

Swedish automaker Volvo says incorporating self-driving technology will add around $20,000 to the cost of a car, due to the high cost of the sensors required to keep a car not only on the blacktop, but clear from other traffic.

Speaking at a conference in London, Volvo’s head of autonomous technology Eric Coelingh said the company’s safety-first approach would also add more cost in the form of double-redundant systems, such as two separate steering systems that would ensure control in the event one steering motor failed.

“We are very focused on safety, so we have to cover every eventuality like a major safety-critical component failure.” Coelingh said.

The processing power required to run an autonomous car’s sensors and controls also bring added cost, due to the much higher number of computations needed compared to a regular car.

For that particular piece of hardware, Volvo is teaming up with computer component manufacturer Nvidia - a household name in the gaming industry that has built its reputation by manufacturing powerful graphics cards.

Volvo will utilise Nvidia’s Drive PX electronic architecture for its future autonomous vehicles, which can fuse data from 12 cameras as well as the car’s on-board radar, lidar and ultrasonic parking sensors to build a 360-degree “picture” of what’s around the car.

“There will be very powerful computing power in a self-driving car,” Coelingh said.

“We are talking processors measured in gigabytes, rather than the kilobytes we have now.”

“The price will depend on volume, but we are talking expensive componentry that could easily be [AU$20,000]."

Volvo is about to begin testing its self-driving tech in China, with public-road trials due to commence there later this year.

Currently, the Volvo XC90 offers a semi-autonomous function called Pilot Assist, which can drive the car within a marked lane at speeds up to 50km/h without intervention from the driver. From next year, Volvo plans to offer an updated version of Pilot Assist in the USA on the S90 sedan capable of driving at speeds up to 130km/h.

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