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Volvo Car Corporation developing new safety systems with autonomous driving support

Autonomous Driving Support helps the driver to comfortably stay in the lane and follow the traffic flow in slow-moving queues. Radar sensors and a camera give input to the system, which automatically controls the speed, the brakes and the steering in order to follow the vehicle in front. Click to enlarge.

Volvo Car Corp. is developing several new safety systems—factoring in driver behavior in the modern traffic environment—towards achieving its 2020 goal that nobody should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.

Modern driver behavior has significantly changed from past behavior, Volvo says, noting that surveys from three different research institutes in the US show that modern drivers spend 25 to 30% of their time behind the wheel doing other things, such as focusing on mobile communication. Since these situations affect the driver’s attention on the road, they have to be taken into account when developing new technologies.

In the modern mobile society we bring our social lives with us wherever we go. 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.

Development of these technologies is progressing very quickly. 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.

—Jan Ivarsson, Senior Manager Safety Strategy & Requirements

Volvo’s research focuses on three main areas: staying safely in the current lane; avoiding accidents at crossroads and junctions; and avoiding collisions with wild animals. The following research projects are currently under way:

  • Autonomous Driving Support
  • Intersection Support
  • Animal Detection

Autonomous driving in traffic queues. Autonomous Driving Support helps the driver stay in his or her lane and follow the rhythm of the traffic if queues build up.

Using data from a camera and radar sensors, the car can follow the vehicle in front. The engine, brakes and steering respond automatically. If the vehicle in front is forced to make a quick move because of an obstacle in the road, the driver is assisted by the steering system, which makes the car veer in the same direction.

This function has considerable scope for making the driver’s life easier. 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.

—Fredrik Lundholm, Function Developer at the Safety Functions department

(Volvo Car is partnering with Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, and Volvo Technology Vehicle in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project developing highway platooning system. In May, SARTRE reported the first time a road train comprising a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60 plus one truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle has operated on a public motorway among other road users. Earlier post.)

Intersection Support is a research project that extends auto brake possibilities to also cover intersection situations. Sensors register critical intersection incidents and the car brakes automatically if necessary. Click to enlarge.

Automatic braking at intersections. Crossroads and junctions are the most complex part of the modern traffic environment. In the US 21.5% of all fatal accidents in 2007 occurred in intersections, and in 16 EU countries (excluding Sweden) the corresponding figure was 20.6% in 2006.

A research project within Volvo Car Corporation in collaboration with the Department of Signals and Systems at Chalmers University of Technology is developing Intersection Support, a system which alerts and automatically brakes for crossing traffic when necessary.

Intersection Support uses sensors to assess the entire traffic scenario. If a critical situation is registered, a decision to intervene is taken, such as automatic braking. Mattias Brännström, PhD Active Safety Functions, says Volvo Car Corporation’s safety approach is about getting cars to behave like people. The sensors are the eyes, the computers are the brain and the brakes are the muscles.

To obtain the necessary data for the development of these systems, cars are driven hundreds of thousands of kilometers in various traffic environments globally.

The animal detection system consists of a radar sensor and an infrared camera that can detect objects also when driving in the dark. The development team from Volvo Car Corporation digitally log film sequences of animals, such as moose, red deer, fallow deer and horses. The recorded data of the various behavioral patterns is used to evaluate and develop the sensor system. Click to enlarge.

Animal Detection. Animal Detection focuses on collisions with wild animals. Accidents involving wild animals are a major international traffic problem. In Canada, about 40,000 such accidents leading to vehicle damage are reported every year. Sweden reported 47,000 animal collisions in 2010. Of these 7,000 were elk collisions. The conditions in Canada and Sweden are also found in Norway, Finland and Russia. In the USA, about 200 people a year are killed in impacts with wild animals, mostly with deer.

However, these official accident statistics do not reveal the entire picture. For example, they do not include all those accidents in which a driver swerves to avoid an animal and instead collides with another vehicle or veers off the road. According to a University of Umeå study of accidents between 2003 and 2010, no less than 23% of fatalities occurred after drivers swerved to avoid elk in the roadway; these figures do not show up in the official statistics of collisions with wild animals.

The Animal Detection system—a further development of Volvo Car’s pedestrian protection system—detects and automatically brakes for animals both in daylight and in the dark.

Accidents with wild animals often take place at cruising speeds. The aim is to reduce the speed of impact from about 100–110 km/h (62–68 mph) to below 80 km/h (50 mph). Once speed drops below 80 km/h, the car’s safety systems are effective and the risk of serious injuries is small. This requires the ability to detect the animal from a distance of about 30 meters.

Another important aspect is the time lapse between object identification and system reaction.

The system is trained to recognize the shapes of animals and their movement patterns via a vast amount of collected data. The gathering of images of animals in motion takes place on a continuous basis. But since wild animals have in many respects mastered the art of staying out of sight, this is a complex process.

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.

—Andreas Eidehall, Technical Expert Active Safety.


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