- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Volvo wants to build cars in which no one will die in crashes by the end of the next decade says Doug Speck, president of Volvo Cars of North America.

“Safety is still our mantra,” he says, noting the automaker has set a goal of having no motorist die in a Volvo crash after 2020.

A start toward this goal will come next year when Volvo will debut the XC60 cross/utility vehicle that will come standard with a low-speed braking system dubbed City Safety.

“That system will address 75 percent of the accidents that take place today,” Speck says. The system is designed to reduce collisions that occur at speeds of less than 18 mph by automatically applying the brakes should the driver fail to react.

“It will be easy for dealers to demonstrate this system on their lots,” Speck says.

Specifics on how Volvo will eliminate death by crashes aren’t complete at this time, but it would be the culmination of the Swedish brand’s drive for absolute safety on the highway.

It started 50 years ago with the invention of the three-point seat belt for cars by a Volvo safety engineer. It’s important to remember that many U.S.-built vehicles didn’t even have lap belts in those days.

Speck, a 25-year auto industry veteran, took the helm at VCNA last March. Despite continuing press reports that Ford Motor Co. will spin off the Volvo brand, Speck says he doesn’t think that will happen.

Speck plans to align the automaker’s resources around the consumer and focus on Volvo’s core qualities. First of all that means safety, of course.

He will get plenty of backup in that area from the Volvo Safety Center. The safety center goes well beyond crashing cars, both literally and virtually in computer tests. Volvo’s safety engineers also are collaborating with university researchers around the world to find new ways of safeguarding drivers and passengers in Volvo cars.

One such project was inspired by swarming locusts, which travel in huge groups without colliding with one another. Finding the secret of the insect collision avoidance system could lead Volvo engineers to design cars that can’t crash.

“Crashes will be a thing of the past in the future,” predicts Thomas Broberg, a Volvo safety engineer. Broberg and his colleagues at the Volvo Safety Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, were inspired by locust-researcher Claire Rind of Newcastle University in the U.K.

Rind’s studies of the African locust reveal that during migratory flights the insects do not collide even though they travel in swarms of millions. Broberg and his teammates hope to equip future cars with enough sensors and safety systems to emulate the ability of these insects to avoid collisions.

“We learned of Dr. Rind’s studies into the African locust that avoid bumping into each other during flights,” says Jonas Ekmark, a preventive safety leader at the Volvo Safety Center. “Our original thoughts centered on pedestrian safety. If we could trace how locusts are able to avoid each other, maybe we could program our cars not to hit pedestrians.”

Says Rind: “Locusts are quick reacting and have reliable circuits. They do their computations against lots of background chatter, much like driving around town.”

Volvo safety engineers want to determine if similar sensory-input-routing methodologies can be built into a vehicle pedestrian-safety system, but attempts to duplicate the locust algorithm for vehicles isn’t yet possible.”The locust processing system is much more sophisticated than the hardware/software currently avail- able,” says Ekmark. “Our technology was no match for nature.” Nevertheless, the Volvo safety team has designed a pedestrian-alert system the automaker will introduce in the near future, and efforts will continue to eventually design cars that don’t crash. “While some interesting ideas came from this study, we still have many more years of research ahead to bring the small locust brain into our cars,” Ekmark says. “We have found that a lowly locust has man beat, at least for now.”

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