Driver assistance technologies are becoming more common and more sophisticated with each passing year, but despite this, their function is still to reduce accidents rather than eliminate them – at least, for now. Volvo's project 360° is going the whole hog with a new technology that the Swedish car maker believes has the potential to eliminate deaths and injuries by a Volvo car or truck by 2020.
Project 360° is the culmination of the four-year Non-Hit Car and Truck project, which is a Swedish collaborative project between the academic and business sectors that is slated to end in December. Volvo says that the 360° system acts as a virtual co-driver by using a suite of discrete sensors to provide comprehensive 360° coverage of the immediate area around the car every 25 milliseconds and can predict events, including the paths of moving objects, up to five seconds ahead.
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Based on new and existing technologies, the key to this is new centralized Sensor Fusion framework that allows data from radar, cameras, lidar, GPS and other sensors to be shared efficiently. This system not only has the ability to detect threats that may be invisible to the driver, but can also give suggestions on alternative courses of action to take to avoid collisions, as well as providing auto steering and braking if the driver doesn't respond.
The 360° system is not only aimed at consumer passenger vehicles, but commercial cargo haulers as well. The technology is particularly attractive because trucks have notoriously restricted fields of vision; especially in confined urban settings.
Though the basic idea is the same, applying it to trucks is not simply a matter of scaling up. According to Volvo, trucks present their own peculiar problems that need to be solved before the technology is practical. For example, being larger and often requiring more complex gear shifts, trucks can't perform the sort of sudden maneuvers that a passenger car is capable of. In addition, they come in a wide variety of sizes and carry loads that vary greatly in weight and distribution from trip to trip. This means that a truck-specific version of 360° will require further developments before becoming practical.
Volvo says that the 360° technology is still in the testing phase and probably won't be deployed for about five to 10 years. Toward this end, the company has built and is currently evaluating a pair of prototype vehicles.
"We have the main components in place, but we need to do a lot more testing in order to make sure that the system is fault-free," says Carl Johan Almqvist, Volvo Trucks' Traffic and Product Safety Director. “If we manage to solve these challenges, a future without truck [and car] accidents is within reach."
The video below shows the 360° technology applied to trucks.