Volvo is channeling its inner “Kungfu” by looking towards the grasshopper as inspiration for its latest safety technology. The Swedish automaker cites Dr. Claire Rind’s research into why mid-flight collisions between swarming migratory grasshoppers are extremely rare as a part of their City Safety System; a standard equipment feature of the new Volvo XC60.
According to Dr. Rind, locusts have visual sensory-inputs that bypass their “brains” and automatically send impulses to their wings directly. Although not nearly as sophisticated as the locust, Volvo initially attempted to replicate these impulses in a vehicle pedestrian-safety system in 2002. “City Safety” takes corrective measures to either avoid or minimize vehicle collisions. Research indicates that 75% of reported collisions occur below 30km/h and that, in 50 per cent of these cases, the driver has not braked before the collision. City Safety operates at speeds up to 30 km/h and is able to detect if the car is at risk of colliding with the vehicle ahead. If the driver has not taken corrective action in time, City Safety will apply the brakes to either minimise the impact, or avoid it altogether. The active components of City Safety include a laser sensor integrated into the top of the windscreen, which is able to detect other vehicles at a distance of up to 8 metres ahead of the car’s front bumper. Making 50 calculations a second, the system determines if an impact is likely, and calculates the amount of braking force needed to avoid a collision if the driver fails react in time. The system is able to brake the car accordingly without intervention from the driver. If the relative closing speed is less than 15km/h it is possible that City Safety will allow the driver to completely avoid a collision. In the event that a collision is unavoidable, the speed and severity of the impact are considerably reduced. City Safety is unaffected by fog, but heavy rain or snow may reduce its performance.
Future Volvo safety systems in development include car-to-car communications systems that help avoid collisions or take over control via information received from other nearby cars. For instance, if you pass over the center line into the opposing lane and there is a car coming towards you, it will take the car back into the original lane to help avoid the frontal collision. With any new technology such as these, the fear is that drivers will be less attentive or mistakenly believe the car will “think” for them. However, logic would seem to indicate that faced with an imminent and sudden threat, human instinct for self-preservation would still automatically kick in whether you are driving a Volvo or not.