By 2020, Volvo boldly declares, nobody will be killed or seriously injured in one of its cars. And to wit, Volvo is working hard at it already: Most of the features relate to autonomous driving, to help Volvo owners get the most of their texting and eating while they’re on their way to something else.
Autonomous Driving Support uses cameras and radar sensors to navigate the flow of traffic when it builds up, automatically driving the car and keeping it within its lane at low speeds. The driver can wrest control from the system at any time if somebody cuts him off or he spills his Big Mac. Next is Intersection Support, which—like the school buses of our youth that halt at railroad crossings—monitors intersections for pedestrians, cross traffic and the like, and if our feeble human minds fail at noticing these things, our Volvo will impede our forward progress. This is especially handy, Volvo says, if a line of cars is turning left but an oncoming car plows through the intersection willy-nilly.
Lastly, Animal Detection alerts drivers to oncoming animals, always a bane of the Maine or Sweden resident’s existence—but Volvo aims to do things a little differently, as swerving around an animal has just as much potential for vehicular mayhem. “The aim is to reduce the speed of impact from about 100-110 km/h to below 80 km/h,” says Volvo. “Once speed drops below 80 km/h, the car’s safety systems are effective and the risk of serious injuries is small.”
Volvo’s solution is to track animal shapes and monitor where their positions are, and if they plan to run. The cameras are also trained on the sides of the road to catch potentially bounding deer, elk and moose in the act before they leap out. To effectively slow the car down enough for other safety features like airbags to take over—and yes, that does sound rather morbid—Volvo’s system must monitor for animals 30 meters ahead, to allow for sufficient braking distance.
“Development of these technologies is progressing very quickly,” said Jan Ivarsson, senior manager of Safety Strategy & Requirements at Volvo. “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.”
The safety-minded company doesn’t know when these features will make it into their cars. But with every step of the way, we’re just slightly closer to the driverless car—when we can really sit back and focus on the things that matter to us, like our drive-thru meal.