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Volvo: A car brand still steeped in safety

Geely-owned Volvo Cars is one of the few car brands that is almost synonymous with high safety values.

Geely-owned Volvo Cars is one of the few car brands that is almost synonymous with high safety values. The company - with Autoliv's assistance - fitted the first three-point safety belt in 1959, the first child’s booster cushion in 1978, and the Volvo Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) in 1991.

In 1927, company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson declared: “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore is – and must remain – safety.”

The company's latest products also reflect the deeply ingrained safety values, facilitated by advanced technologies and an eagerness to spread them across the model ranges.

The XC40, for example, marks a number of firsts for Volvo. It's the carmaker's first ever compact SUV and the first model to be built on the carmaker's CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform. Its chunky lines, concave grille and sculpted doors give it a certain amount of street swagger too.

As we would expect with Volvo, the XC40 comes bristling with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including the carmaker's 'City Safety' suite of safety aids. This uses a radar and camera unit to scan the area in front of the car and identify any objects it detects. It will detect vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals, and warn the driver if a collision is likely. If they fail to react, it will automatically apply maximum braking force to avoid the collision entirely or limit its severity.

The XC40 comes bristling with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including the carmaker's 'City Safety' suite of safety aids.

Other ADAS technologies fitted to the car include Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which is designed to prevent head-on collisions. If the XC40 inadvertently moves out of its lane into the path of an oncoming vehicle, the system alerts you to the potential danger by automatically providing steering assistance to guide you safely back into your lane.

Additional standard-fit safety features are Run-off Road Mitigation and Run-off Road Protection, which help prevent the car running off the road and protect the car's occupants should this be unavoidable. Run-off Road Mitigation uses the car's camera to monitor the position of the car in relation to road makings. If the car gets too close to the edge of the road, the system automatically applies the steering to help keep it on course.

If the car does leave the road, Run-off Road Protection tightens the front seat belts to keep the occupants in position, while a specially designed section in the front seat frames collapses to cushion the vertical forces that can occur in these accidents, helping to reduce spinal injuries.

The XC40 also introduces Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive technology to the compact SUV class. Available across the XC40 range, Pilot Assist is a driver-support system that combines a forward-facing camera and radar to detect your lane and any vehicles in front. It then assists with the steering (up to 80mph) to keep the car within its lane, and works with the adaptive cruise control to keep at the desired cruising speed or at a safe distance from any vehicle in front. Pilot Assist can automatically accelerate and brake with the flow of traffic, right down to a standstill. The system is optimised for motorway driving and requires you to have your hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Volvo's 'City Safety' technology 

Volvo says City Safety is the umbrella term for its standard collision avoidance functionalities. All City Safety features are standard and remain active above 4km/h. The main elements: 

  • Avoiding or mitigating collisions with oncoming vehicles at intersections. If the driver turns in front of an oncoming vehicle, City Safety can assist by braking automatically, if the driver does not. If a collision is imminent, at speeds above 10km/h, the front safety belts are tightened to secure the driver’s and front seat passengers’ position.
  • Avoiding or mitigating collisions with other vehicles. City Safety first warns the driver and then brakes automatically if the driver does not brake or steer to avoid vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses) in front of the car, moving slower in the same direction, braking or not moving. At speed differences up to 60km/h between the car and the vehicle in front, a collision can be avoided when the driver does not react. At higher speed differences, the collision is mitigated. The driver can take control and brake and/or steer away at any time to avoid the collision. At speeds above 30km/h, the front safety belts tighten to secure the driver’s and front seat passenger’s position. 
  • Avoiding or mitigating collisions with cyclists. If a cyclist swerves into or is stationary in the path of the car, the City Safety warns the driver and brakes automatically if the driver does not react. The car’s speed can reduce by up to 50km/h to help avoid a collision. 
  • Avoiding or mitigating collisions with pedestrians. If a pedestrian moves into, or crosses the path of the car, or is stationary in the path of the car, City Safety warns and brakes automatically if the driver does not, at speeds up to 80km/h. A collision with a pedestrian can be avoided at speeds up to 45km/h. For speeds between 45 to 80km/h, the collision is mitigated.
  • Avoiding or mitigating collisions with large animals. In addition to detecting vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, City Safety also detects large animals such as moose, elks and horses. The radar/camera unit, fitted standard, can detect large animals standing on the road, or slowly moving across it, side-on to the car. The system warns the driver when a large animal is detected. When the driver brakes, additional brake pressure is provided to help avoid a collision when needed. If the driver does not react, the car applies the brakes to mitigate any impending collision. The car’s speed can be reduced by up to 15km/h. If a collision is imminent, at speeds above 30km/h, the front safety belts tighten to secure the driver’s and front seat passenger’s position.  

As far as 2020 is concerned much depends on prospects for the economy and measures that Beijing may introduce to stimulate demand.

Steering support

This system helps the driver take evasive action in an emergency situation. If  the driver faces a vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian, or a large animal in front, braking is not always enough – steering away is sometimes necessary to avoid an accident. 

If steering support detects that the driver is turning the steering wheel to avoid a vehicle, a cyclist, pedestrian, or a large animal in front, it supports the driver in steering away from the threat by: 

  • braking the inner wheels (during turning) individually to make the turning as effective as possible 

  • then helping to straighten the direction of travel by braking the outer wheels 

  • adding to the driver’s steering input. 

Volvo says steering support helps the driver to steer away from the threat as effectively and safely as possible and is always active between 50km/h and 100km/h.

Volvo has also introduced an upgraded Blind Spot Information System option with a new Steer Assist function to the XC40 range. This automatically applies corrective steering to return the XC40 to its lane to help avoid the risk of collision with another vehicle in the driver's blind spot. Impressive stuff.

The company also says Pilot Assist helps to support the driver and enhance safety. Pilot Assist supports the driver with steering, distance and speed control in situations ranging from slow moving traffic jams to free-flowing long distance driving on motorways at speeds up to 130km/h. The driver can override the system at any time by using the brake pedal, accelerator pedal or steering wheel.

Adaptive Cruise Control settings like time gap and set speed are available and the driver display shows all status information; e.g. steering support on/off.

Volvo says Pilot Assist makes driving safer and more relaxed in monotonous stop-and-go traffic by adding steering assistance to the popular Adaptive Cruise Control. When Pilot Assist is activated, acceleration, braking and steering assistance helps the driver follow traffic flow within the current lane. This, Volvo points out, reduces driver strain in tedious situations and increases safety margins.

Pilot Assist works at speeds up to 130km/h and does not need a lead car, making it useful on long motorway trips where road markings are clear. 

Larger, curved screens

Jump into a new car today and you are almost sure to find a tablet-style touchscreen infotainment system positioned centre stage of the dash. It acknowledges that most of us no longer use maps to find our way around but expect the car to guide us to our destination and remain connected throughout the journey. For example, the Volvo XC90 comes loaded with semi-autonomous and connected car features, most of which are displayed on an intuitive centre console touchscreen.

As with most new technologies, what starts in the luxury market often trickles down the car segments. Inside the new Honda Civic, positioned at the top of the piano-black finish centre console - and drawing the eye as the push start is pressed - is a Honda Connect 2 seven-inch touchscreen, serving as the main point of contact to control the infotainment and climate control functions. This second-generation of Honda’s infotainment and connectivity system incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

Tomorrow’s cockpits, according to Harman, will have more curved screens designed using OLED technology. The main advantage of an OLED display is that it works without a backlight, enabling it to blend into the interior.

Screens are becoming larger, too. The Tesla Model S features a huge 17-inch screen. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. China’s Byton has debuted its first concept car. A notable feature of the electric SUV is a colossal 49-inch screen stretching the width of the dash.

Whether or not such high-tech wizardry will actually make it onto the road, the above concepts demonstrate the direction the auto industry is taking.

Voice recognition

While giving instructions in our cars is nothing new, putting questions to the likes of Alexa and Cortana while on the road is. Automakers are fast adopting virtual assistants, confirming that speech is becoming the preferred interface for tomorrow’s cockpit.

Voice recognition is seen by some as the answer to eliminate many controls that have traditionally been manually operated. Voice can play an important part of a multimodal HMI solution for inputting information or for cutting through layers on the menus by requesting a function directly. Traditional voice control was centred on a set of fixed commands with catatonic responses which required some level of driver training prior to operation of the system. With the advent of the new low power, high performance microprocessors, smarter voice command engines linked into the HMI logic are now available. Even natural language and grammatical analysis are becoming more achievable.

Voice recognition, although already an option, looks set to play a bigger role as cars gradually become more autonomous.

If in doubt, ask: Microsoft’s Cortana AI system forms part of BMW’s Connected Car vision.

Gesture recognition

Looking down at a touchscreen (without haptic feedback) can be distracting. Gesture recognition is therefore said to be the Next Big Thing, regarded as the logical next step from touchscreens and buttons. Gesture control operates via a stereo camera within the cabin that can recognise certain hand movements for pre-programmed adjustments and functions. Rotating your finger clockwise at a screen could turn up the volume or a finger gesture could answer or decline a call. While such novelties will make life simpler for the driver, it should also simplify interior design and liberate space for storage options.

Interior lighting trends

Advances have also been made in the interior lighting department. Not so long ago, interior lighting consisted of central and side headliner lights, complemented by low-level ambient lighting located mainly in the cockpit area. Today, the accent has changed, thanks to widespread use of LEDs enabling personalisation of car interiors. For example, during night time driving, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class takes on an entirely different feel thanks to the ambient interior LED lighting that can be personalised using a palette of no fewer than 64 colours. It really does start to feel like a cockpit, adding illuminating highlights to the trim, the central display, the front stowage compartment on the centre console, handle recesses, door pockets, front and rear footwells, overhead control panel and mirror triangle.

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