Safety researchers at Volvo Car Corporation recognize that Mother Nature has been developing life-saving preventive safety systems for millions upon millions of years and the company has turned to the African Locust for insight in how to solve the problem of vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions.
Volvo Cars discovered a research project headed by Dr. Claire Rind at the Newcastle University in the UK that looked to explain why - in a huge swarm of African Locusts - mid-flight collisions between the migratory grasshoppers was exceedingly rare.
"Our original thoughts centered on pedestrian safety," states Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Cars. "If we could trace how the locust is able to avoid each other maybe we could program our vehicles not to hit pedestrians."
During the study, Dr. Rind learned that the locust's visual input is instantly transmitted to the insect's wing nerve cells, seemingly bypassing the brain. Dr. Rind calls this the Locust Principle. "Locusts are quick reacting and have reliable circuits. They do their computations against lots of background chatter, much like driving around town," she says.
Volvo Cars wanted to learn if locust-style sensory-input routing methodologies could be replicated into a vehicle pedestrian safety system. Primary to this research was to synthesize a locust algorithm that could be applied to a vehicle. "As it turns out, the locust processing system is much more sophisticated than the hardware and software currently available. In the end, technology was no match for nature," says Ekmark. "What we learned was very encouraging. However, rather than wait for technology to catch up to Dr. Rind's Locust Principle, Volvo created a pedestrian alert feature that will be introduced in the near future. "
When Volvo Cars launched the development of its pedestrian safety system project in 2002 sensing and computational systems proved to be rather weak, but technology is developing rapidly. Volvo City Safety will be launched as standard equipment in the new Volvo XC60 that will go on sale in Canada in early 2009. At low speeds, City Safety is sophisticated enough to bring the XC60 to a complete stop should the vehicle in front suddenly stop.
"Beyond City Safety, our next step will be our first pedestrian avoidance feature", comments Ekmark. "Although City Safety is not related to our Locust research, we are confident that our first pedestrian auto brake feature will be very good at taking actions to help avoid hitting pedestrians."
"While some interesting ideas came from this study, we still have a many more years of research ahead to bring that small grasshopper brain into our vehicles. We have found a lowly grasshopper has man beat, at least for now. Still, the big question remains: How do groups of locusts keep from bumping into each other? Maybe there is more to be learned. We will continue to follow interesting paths in our efforts to reach our safety vision; to design vehicles that do not crash," concludes Ekmark.
Volvo Cars of Canada Corp. is part of the Volvo Car Corporation of Göteborg, Sweden. The company provides marketing, sales, parts, service, technology and training support to the 42 Volvo automobile retailers across the country. The company's product range includes the stylish and sporty C30, the elegant C70 hardtop convertible, the compact S40 sedan, the S60 sport sedan, the S80 flagship sedan and the versatile V50 and V70 wagon. For customers looking for a Volvo vehicle with all-road capability, the company offers the versatile XC70 and XC90. Volvo Canada is also expanding its line-up with the introduction of the new XC60, a crossover with the award-winning City Safety system on the standard equipment list.
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