- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Volvo has always been a company embracing safety, but on Tuesday they showed how they "see" the future by inviting the automotive press to drive their SCC, or Safety Concept Car. Designed at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center in California, it highlights the cutting-edge technologies engineers at Volvo, and parent Ford Motor Co., are using to make tomorrow's cars safer.

Volvo engineers know that the vast majority of information coming to the driver is visual. Anything that hampers that flow of information either through lack of visibility or distraction diminishes the driver's ability to make the right decisions in difficult situations. The SCC has been built as a concept to show just how much a driver can be helped by well-designed safety systems.

At first glance the SCC doesn't look like a safety concept car. It's gorgeous, with pleasing lines everywhere and a lot of P-1800 (Volvo's beautiful sports coupe from the 1960s) influence. Looking closer one notices the "see-through" A pillars, made of hollowed-out stainless steel and Plexiglas. The B pillars are curved toward the center of the car in an arc between the window sill and the roof. Ordinarily, bending the pillar would reduce its strength, but it's wedded to the seat-back structure to form a sort of roll cage (the seat moves independently of the back support.)

At the rear of the car are mounted some of the neatest-looking light lenses, behind which are soft-glowing neon lamps for brake, running and turn signals. The effect is not only a large "washing" of light for easy viewing from behind, but a downright artistic use of light itself.

Getting into the driver's seat a sensor detects the location of the driver's eyes, then automatically adjusts the seat, floor, pedals, steering wheel and center console including the gear lever to maximize the driver's visibility in all directions. That visibility, by the way, is the closest a sedan can possibly get to that of a convertible. The effect of the see-through A pillars, wide expanse of glass and curved B pillars is amazing, to say the least.

Still, with any car there are blind spots in the driver's field of vision, especially when overtaken by another vehicle. To combat this, Volvo engineers put sensors in the outside mirrors that detect approaching vehicles and alert the driver through a series of yellow, then red lights and an audible warning. Rearward-facing cameras built into the mirrors show the driver what's in the blind spot, and other cameras show several rear views

so the driver can see what's going on behind the car.

And what if you might not be paying attention and begin to veer off the road or across the lane, you might ask? Well, Volvo engineers installed a forward-facing camera that monitors the position of the car and alerts the driver if that happens. Headlights, of course, "adapt" to the road and the speed by directing a part of the beam in the direction the wheels are turned. The SCC also has night vision, just as one would expect from an ultra-safe car.

All seats in the SCC use two types of four-point safety belts, called the X4 CrissCross Belt and the V4 Center Buckle belt. The rear seat has two adjustable seat cushions whose height can be electrically altered to accommodate children of widely varying age and size.

If all that technology weren't enough, Volvo engineers even made the remote entry into a communication center, called the VPC, or Volvo Personal Communicator. It has a fingerprint sensor that makes it impossible for a thief to take over unless he's taken the driver hostage. In fact, if a thief is hiding in the car a heartbeat sensor warns the driver (a warning appears on the remote's screen) to stay away. The heartbeat sensor also protects in situations where children or pets have been left inside. Since the remote "knows" the driver and transmits the personal settings to the car, no key is needed to start the engine. The VPC can transmit information via a cell phone or from a PC or hand-held computer.

So what does all this safety technology cost? Well, the SCC (the only one of its kind) cost somewhere between $4 and $8 million to build, but all of its technology will see economies of scale that will allow inclusion on future vehicles. The important thing is, all these systems work and work very well.

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