When Volvo presented their latest model back in May, the demonstration didn’t quite go as planned. The car should have stopped automatically when it detected an obstacle. But there was a technical problem which meant it just crashed. In June however, Volvo did a similar presentation in Portugal and this time it went more smoothly.
With this technology, if the driver ignores a sound warning, and continues, the car automatically does an emergency stop.
Says Jonas Ekmark, the Manager of Volvo’s Active Safety Programme: “The system works by means of a radar sensor that sits in the front of the car, that has a field of view of 60 degress. Now this radar works in combination with a camera system that is placed behind the windscreen so this middle portion has a camera where algo-rythms are running that detect pedestrians.”
The camera sees shapes and movement that could be a person in front of the car. If the camera sees a pedestrian and the radar thinks they are too close, the car, if it’s doing less than 35kms an hour, stops. If it’s going faster than that it brakes sharply.
But not everyone thinks this is a good development. At the Swiss Touring Club, they aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the technology for example.
Says Jean-Marc Thevenaz, the Head of Road Safety: “What scares me a bit is that a driver could feel completely safe, could relax and rely completely on the technology.. not really pay any attention to the road at all… and therefore not really take responsibility for their driving.”
But Jonas Ekmark comments: “We have designed the system so that it activates so late that no driver would use it on purpose. It should not be used, not at all be used as a replacement for safe driving. It should only add to the security.”
For the moment, these systems are not always reliable. In Paris,Fawzi Nashashibi, from the National Research Institute reports that there is still work to be done: “We don’t know if the car thinks a pushchair is a person or not. And more importantly, how does it manage when people change direction? And when someone crosses in front of someone else? Does it know there’s someone else behind this person who might come out frm behind them? There are no 100% reliable systems.”
Volvo agrees. For now, their system doesn’t work in the dark for example. But although right now, the system is far from foolproof – work is ongoing to find a way to make driving safer, and make pedestrians less vulnerable.