Volvo cars watch the road with camera, radar, laser
DETROIT—Volvo’s booth at the North American International Auto Show features a café serving coffee, tea, and ginger cookies. For a few minutes, I can kind of pretend I’m Swedish. And then I can check out some of Volvo's latest safety features, which use a camera and laser built into the windshield, and a radar built into the front grille, to help avoid accidents.
These devices work with a lot of different safety features designed to watch out for potential road and traffic hazards. While alerting the driver is usually the primary goal, some of these features—braking the car, say—will act if the driver does not respond to the alert.
City Safety, Volvo's standard system, is designed for avoiding auto accidents in densely populated urban environments. It functions at low speeds (about 31 mph or less). If the Volvo driver gets too close to another car in traffic, the Volvo car's camera detects the other vehicle, alerts its driver, and may initiate braking if the driver doesn't respond in time.
Volvo's optional Technology Package includes additional safety systems (shown, below, for the Volvo V40, a model currently available only in Europe). Adaptive Cruise Control will slow down the car if it detects stopped traffic ahead. Lane Departure Warning alerts you if you stray on the road. Road Sign Information looks ahead at road signs and shows upcoming ones on the instrument display. My favorite highway feature, though, is the Blind Spot Information System, which watches the back corners around the car to make sure I’m aware of a motorcyclist or a fast-passing car.
Volvos have other notable safety features. Pedestrian Detection compares moving objects picked up on the camera with an image database of pedestrians. If it detects a pedestrian moving toward the car in a potentially unsafe manner, the system initiates an alert and prepares to brake. The system is still being developed to recognize a wider range of moving hazards, such as deer on the open road.
Volvo’s V40 also features Pedestrian Airbag Technology, an external airbag that pops out from the back of the hood and wraps over the lower parts of the car’s front pillars (A-pillars) and windshield. The hood is also raised in back as a result. The raised hood and the airbag padding help moderate the impact for the pedestrian, with the hope of avoiding or minimizing injury.
The V40 also showcases Volvo’s Park Assist Pilot. While some drivers might feel a little embarrassed to use it at first, it can make a difference, especially in urban areas where squeezing a car into an available space can test the limits of physics. The Park Assist Pilot uses ultrasonic sensors placed on all four sides of the car. It gauges the length of the space to confirm whether you can get into it (no more heated debates with yourself, or with anxious, impatient passengers); the Park Assist Pilot then handles the steering part, while you take care of the transmission and accelerator.
All of these safety functions aim to make driving less dangerous and stressful, which is great. What I was curious about was whether the front camera could be used to stream video to some sort of recording device, so you could record your drive—and have some evidence handy in case someone clips you on the causeway. Volvo said it did not have this feature in mind at the moment. Here’s one person waiting for it.
Editor's note: This article was corrected to clarify which features are available on the standard City Safety system and the optional Technology package, and those available on the Europe-only V40 model. TechHive apologizes for the errors.