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by Tim Beissmann

Volvo has lifted the lid on its next generation of vehicle safety systems designed to protect drivers from stray animals and red-light runners, and take full control of the car in congested city traffic.

The trio of safety projects – autonomous driving support, intersection support and animal detection – are the Swedish brand’s latest efforts to realise its ambition that nobody is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.

Volvo’s autonomous driving technology aims to liberate drivers from motoring monotony by taking total control of accelerating, braking and steering function in traffic queues. Relying on data from a camera and radar sensors, the system perceives the vehicle in front and follows behind in the same lane. If the vehicle in front swerves sharply to avoid an obstacle, the Volvo will veer in the same direction.

“This function has considerable scope for making the driver’s life easier,” said Volvo safety function developer Fredrik Lundholm. “However, it is always the driver who decides. He or she can take control at any time.”

Intersection support is designed to prevent crashes caused by vehicles that run red lights and stop signs. The sensors take a broader view to assess the entire traffic scenario and the system applies the Volvo’s brakes automatically if it perceives immediate danger.

Volvo is testing the technology over hundreds of thousands of kilometres in a range of traffic conditions around the world, as the system needs to be calibrated specifically for different markets – such as the busy streets of Bangkok – to suit traffic intensity and driving styles.

Volvo is also focusing on improving safety in rural areas, evolving its pedestrian detection technology to detect and automatically brake when animals are perceived in the vehicle’s path.

Drivers in Sweden reported 7000 collisions with elk in 2010 – roughly the same number of drivers in New South Wales that reported a collision with a kangaroo in the same year. A study by the University of Umea found that 23 per cent of road deaths in Sweden between 2003 and 2010 occurred after the driver swerved off the road to avoid elk, while around 200 people are killed in the US every year in collisions with animals, mostly deer.

Volvo is not initially aiming to avoid collisions completely with animals, but rather reduce the speed of impact from cruising pace (100-110km/h), where most animal incidents take place, to less than 80km/h, where the car’s safety systems can work effectively and reduce the risk of serious injury to the occupants.

The system is currently being developed to recognise large animals like elk, stags, horses and cattle, but in the future will be refined to detect smaller animals such as deer, wild boar, and potentially even kangaroos.

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