Wrecked in service to the cause: testing crash features on a Volvo. (Photo : Reuters)
Volvo this week re-asserted the bold projection that technologies it is developing will ensure that nobody will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo after the year 2020.
Jan Ivarsson, senior manager of Safety Strategy & Requirements at Volvo Car Corporation, says that the company is working on a number of research projects aimed at developing technologies that will make the vow a reality.
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Many of the technologies revolve around anticipating driver behavior. Volvo cites three American research studies that reveal that modern drivers spend 25 to 30 percent of their time behind the wheel doing other things.
Mobile devices are, of course, a major culprit behind driver distraction.
"In the modern mobile society we bring our social lives with us wherever we go," Mr Ivarsson said in a statement. "The car is no exception. For us it's quite simply a matter of creating technology that provides the driver with the right support at all times."
The research to combat accidents is classified by Volvo as falling under three main areas: "Autonomous Driving Support", "Intersection Support", and "Animal Detection".
Autonomous Driving focuses on helping the driver to stay in their lane and follow the rhythm of the traffic if it builds up.
"Driving in slow queues is a monotonous and boring part of many drivers' everyday lives. Thanks to technology for autonomous driving, the car can help the driver comfortably and safely follow the vehicle in front," Fredrik Lundholm, function developer at Volvo's Safety Functions department, said in a statement.
Volvo says that technology allows the car to use data from a camera and radar sensors to follow the vehicle in front. The engine, brakes and steering respond accordingly. If the vehicle in front is forced to make a quick move because of an obstacle in the road, the steering system will cause the car to veer in the same direction.
"This function has considerable scope for making the driver's life easier," Lundholm said. "Our first generation of advanced technology focuses on driving in queues at low speeds. The car follows the vehicle in front in the same lane. However, it is always the driver who decides. He or she can take control at any time."
Automatic braking at intersections
Volvo cites the statistics that roughly 20 percent of all US and EU accidents in 2006-07 occurred at intersections.
Working in conjunction with the Department of Signals and Systems at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, Volvo is developing a system of sensory alerts that will cause the car to automatically brake for crossing traffic when necessary.
Mattias Brännström, who heads the project for Volov, said the aim is to get cars to behave like people: the sensors are the eyes, the computers the brain, and the brakes the muscles.
"With our advanced technology we're trying to do the same thing that people would do in the same situation if they have time to react. We want to provide assistance in as many situations as possible," Mr Brännström said.
Toward this end, Volvos are being driven throughout the globe to create a system that is prepared for all local variations in traffic, driving style, and obstacles.
Animal Detection focuses on collisions with wild animals
Volvo regards equipping cars to be prepared for acts of animal as essential to effective fatality-prevention.
According to Volvo Car, 40,000 vehicular accidents involving animals occur every year in Canada; 47,000 occurred in Sweden in 2010 (7,000 of them elk collisions); and in the USA, about 200 people die every year as a result of animal collisions, most involving deer.
The company notes that these statistics do not include accidents caused by a driver swerving to avoid an animal. A University of Umeå study of accidents between 2003 and 2010 found that 23 percent of fatalities occurred after drivers swerved to avoid elk in the roadway.
Volvo's Animal Detection program seeks to develop a system that detects and automatically brakes for animals.
"The technology is a further development of our pedestrian protection system," said Andreas Eidehall, a Volvo technical expert. "Considerable attention has been focused on ensuring that the system works in the dark since most collisions with wild animals take place at dawn and dusk."
Volvo is working on a system that will perceive animals as far away as possible, and slow the car down from cruising speeds where collision is most deadly.
It is intended that the system will recognize the shapes of animals and their motion patterns via data that Volvo is constantly collecting.
"There is a huge challenge in collecting data that helps us understand how we can detect what nature has done its best to conceal. The focus is on large animals since they cause the most damage and the most severe injuries. We have worked with elk and large stags, but have now also included horses and cattle. One future step will be the ability to detect smaller animals such as deer and wild boar," said Eidehall.
Volvo is optimistic that its goal can be reached, but stresses that it cannot do it alone.
"Development of these technologies is progressing very quickly," Jan Ivarsson said. "And with steadily lower prices for sensors and other electronic components, it is our intention that these advanced solutions will in future be fitted to all our cars. Having said that, close cooperation with the relevant public authorities, insurance companies and other car manufacturers is also vital for achieving the vision of an accident-free traffic environment."