This autumn, Volvo will roll out its first self-driving cars on the roads of Gothenburg in the Drive Me project, with the aim of having a product ready for market three years later. The competition is fierce. Essentially every major automaker plans to launch their own variant. In California, software giants such as Google and Apple are hard at work on their own self-driving programmes.
Accordingly, Swedish industry giants need to find entirely new ways of working – so as not to lose speed and momentum in their development work.
This is the reason behind Volvo Cars and Autoliv's major investment in Zenuity, which will only work on developing software for self-driving vehicles.
"We're doing this to maintain our leading position in safety. I would say that this is a unique partnership as it's a completely independent company, established on pure business grounds, and there's no exclusivity in any direction," says Zenuity's CEO Dennis Nobelius.
Zenuity is based on two global actors from Western Sweden's automotive cluster providing expertise and patents from their own businesses:
"Autoliv are experts in components such as cameras and radars while Volvo are experts in integrating solutions with entire cars. Both companies have developed world-leading technologies and have collaborated for several decades, but now that they are establishing a joint venture they have the opportunity to take things to the next level," says Dennis.
Zenuity's mission is to develop and optimise the software for driver assistance systems and self-driving systems. Initially, the results will be seen in Volvo cars, but Zenuity is open to having other companies as both customers and investors.
"There's no exclusivity in any direction. We're our own master, with Volvo and Autoliv as our investors. Now we're going to work on streamlining our business. And the technology platform will be the same regardless of which manufacturer wants to use it. The algorithms are the same, it just needs to be adapted to the vehicle."
At present, Zenuity is working on software for passenger cars, but in the long run Dennis also sees good opportunities for using Zenuity's products in a number of other vehicle types.
"We can imagine that being trucks, buses, trains and construction vehicles. Although the technology also works with drones and small pods that could pick up a take-away order and deliver it to your door. We've only seen the beginning of what this technology can be used for."
When we visit Zenuity, the company has opened the doors to its four offices in Gothenburg, Linköping, Munich and Detroit. At the time of our visit, Zenuity has 298 employees, but the plan is to quickly grow to 600 people.
"Attracting the right skills is a challenge," says Dennis. "But at the same time, we see a great deal of interest. My personal LinkedIn page is completely weighed down by sincere emails from highly skilled people who are interested in what we do."
Zenuity is settling in at a newly built office block in Lindholmen. It's generously sized and ready for Zenuity's expansion. But the company is also actively looking for local startups that want to share that office space.
"We want to be an agile, innovative company, and there are many interesting startups in the Gothenburg area. There's extensive knowledge about maps, artificial intelligence and connected cars, for example, and that's where I think we can benefit greatly from each other."
"Generally speaking, it's a huge bonus that we've had a strong automotive cluster in Western Sweden for so long, with different technology fields adept at setting aside egos and working with an interdisciplinary approach. There's not only a strong auto industry here, but also a strong telecom industry and a strong IT cluster. And if you combine those things, you have everything you need to get a company like Zenuity off the ground."
Zenuity is a newly founded company owned equally by Volvo Cars and Autoliv. Both companies have transferred patents for driver assistance systems and software for self-driving vehicles to the new company. In the near future, Zenuity's products will be used in Volvo cars, but potentially also by other auto manufacturers. Employees from both Volvo and Autoliv have been transferred to Zenuity, which is also investing heavily in recruitment. The short-term goal is 600 employees, split between the offices in Gothenburg, Linköping, Munich and Detroit.