Volvo  sees “virtual co-drivers” down the road

Volvo sees “virtual co-drivers” down the road

Sweden’s Volvo, long known for its commitment to advancing vehicle safety, sees the truck of the future carrying onboard a “virtual co-driver” capable of taking over if the driver loses control

Sweden’s Volvo, long known for its commitment to advancing vehicle safety, sees the truck of the future carrying onboard a “virtual co-driver” capable of taking over if the driver loses control. “We quite simply attach eyes to the truck,” said Erika Jakobsson, Volvo Technology’s HAVEit project manager, who said Volvo is among manufacturers engaged in the European Union’s (EU) drive to develop intelligent vehicles.

According to Volvo, a survey by the European Truck Accident Causation Study found that 47% of all truck accidents take place in monotonous situations such as traffic tie-ups, with vehicles travelling in the same direction, or in stressful situations such as at intersections or where roadwork is under way. The goal of the new technology being developed is to help ensure such accidents become less frequent.

The EU's HAVEit project is focusing heavily on next-generation intelligent vehicles that can save lives and the environment through the development of advanced driver-assistance systems, said Volvo. The Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport project is funded with 28 million Euros and seeks “to develop a sort of virtual co-driver that responds to the current traffic situation and the driver's needs.”

Reiner Hoeger, project coordinator for HAVEit, said a key challenge is how the vehicle should communicate with the driver, “what sort of displays, voice functions and so on it should have. We all have different temperaments, so the system must recognize when the driver is feeling irritated or calm."

The virtual co-driver technology will “optimize vehicles to assist the driver not just by helping him or her but by actually taking over certain tasks when necessary,” according to Volvo. The OEM said this technology “relies on a number of sensors on the outside of the vehicle that respond to the traffic environment and scan lane markings, road signs, the current traffic situation and road conditions. This is combined with an internal system that monitors the driver and interprets his or her needs. What is more, the truck is enhanced so that it can be controlled electronically. The same technology will also help make the vehicles more economical and help the driver drive in a more environmentally favorable way.”

"We are not trying to make the driver superfluous, we want him or her to always have some form of control,” explained Hoeger. “We do this through continuous dialogue between driver and system, where the vehicle becomes more or less automated depending on the current circumstances."

All told, 20 companies and universities are involved in the project, which was launched in 2008. The goal is to be able by 2011 to demonstrate the new technology in seven vehicles, three of them being heavy commercial vehicles from Volvo. To that end, two trucks are currently undergoing a “digital transformation” at Volvo Technology in Göteborg, Sweden. One truck is focused more on safety advances while the other zeroes in on environmental improvements.

The safety truck will feature the development of systems and automation designed to assist the driver in repetitive traffic “tailback” situations characterized by monotonous low-speed progress. "The queue support system for trucks in production today works down to 30 km/h,” said Jakobsson. “This is still a relatively high speed. We are working on queue support down to 0 km/h. What’s more, the truck should automatically stop if the vehicle in front stops, and start

The other part of the automated queue support system that Jakobsson and her team of 16 colleagues-- drawn from all over Europe-- are working on is dedicated to keeping the truck in the right lane.

"Today's lane support system issues an audible warning which requires that the driver responds,” she pointed out. “Now we are examining an entirely automated process so that the truck always drives in the middle of its lane without the driver having to do anything."

"I hope that some of this technology will make it into production in about 2012.” Noted Hoeger. “Bbut if we look further ahead, to 2020, even the more advanced functions will be in production by then."

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