When I was learning to drive, I was taught to anticipate trouble and always have an escape plan in case of emergency. Volvo says its future cars and trucks will do the same thing, only faster and better than humanly possible.
Volvo says by 2020, its centralized Sensor Fusion framework will gather input from onboard cameras, radar, lidar and GPS plus data from onboard speed, steering and brake sensors to generate a 360 degree electronic model of the car and its environment every few milliseconds. It will be able to see beyond the driver’s field of vision to anticipate potential collisions before they occur. The system will distinguish between pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists, and know the predictable patterns of behavior for each group.
In an emergency situation, the system can apply the brakes or even override manual control of the steering to avoid a wreck or injury to others. For someone like me who grew up with British sports cars controlled by Lucas electronics, this sort of electronic wizardry is the stuff of science fiction.
The Sensor Fusion system was developed over the past 4 years by the Non-Hit Car and Truck Project, a partnership between Volvo Cars, Volvo Trucks and a consortium of electronics suppliers and universities. The goal was to reduce accident risks for passenger cars and commercial vehicles.
The automated accident avoidance technology is “imperative for the development of self-driving cars, which will be able to automatically steer and brake to avoid collision with any object in any situation,” says Anders Almevad, project manager for the Non-Hit Car Project. “Our primary objective is to focus on different types of accident scenarios.”
For commercial vehicles which cannot maneuver as easily as a car in congested areas, the system focuses on seeing electronically more than what the driver can see physically. If it detects an unsafe situation, it can give the driver up to 5 seconds of warning or bring the vehicle to a halt if necessary. This technology can be applied to a wide variety of Volvo vehicles, from its hybrid buses to plug-in SUVs
Some people are nervous about filling our roadways with self-activating robots, just as many were originally skeptical of air bags in cars. But with over 30,000 road deaths in the US alone every year, shouldn’t we welcome advances in technology that promise to dramatically reduce the annual loss of life due to driving accidents?