He is into sci-fi movies, sculptured titanium watches and futurology. Volvo Cars’ studio chief designer Stefan Jansson is already demonstrating his ‘eye’ for what lies ahead.
Stefan Jansson will be one of the guys to thank when you soon step into your Volvo car and find not an enclosed space, but a car designed around the driver's eye to ensure better vision. The 31-year old Swede began his career dreamily doodling cars at school in northern Sweden, and is now designing cars with see-through windscreen support pillars and sensors that ‘read’ the drivers eye, fingerprint and heartbeat for a safer, more secure motoring experience.
Stefan admits he finds modern automotive design alchemy and working on visions of developments in safety that motorists can enjoy in the future ‘pretty cool stuff’. "Since being a kid I’ve wanted to apply my love for cars to designing a piece of machinery that allows other people to share my passion at both an emotional and functional level."
Driving into the future
Talking to the young Swedish designer, who studied at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Montreux, Switzerland, is like driving into the future with doors into different scenarios opening and shutting on all sides. Little wonder then that one of Stefan’s ‘brain-kids’ has been the prototype Volvo Safety Concept Car (SCC) that has wowed the motoring press since its January 2001 launch at the Detroit Motor Show.
Stefan was a lead designer of the futuristic prototype at Volvo’s design Monitoring and Concept Center in California. Perhaps reflecting his love for sports cars, the Volvo SCC was sleek and sporty, yet incorporated a host of innovative safety and security solutions.
"The Volvo SCC, blending advanced electronics with new materials and mechanical design solutions, is a vision of the leading edge design and technological developments in safety that Volvo buyers will enjoy in the not so distant future," says Stefan.
Eye of the driver
Aware that over 90 percent of all key information to the driver results from visual input through the car's windows and windscreen, Stefan and his SCC team members designed the prototype around the driver's eye. Thus, when the driver gets into the seat, a sensor identifies the location of his or her eye. The seat then automatically adjusts to suit the position of the eye so that the driver gains the best possible field of vision. Once this is done, the floor, pedals, steering wheel and centre console including the gear lever all move to ensure that all the controls are within convenient reach.
The Volvo SCC was given a number of other functions that improve visibility, including see-through windscreen pillars, rear radar and cameras, headlight beams that adapt to the road direction, as well as additional exciting features in the areas of active driving safety, crash protection and personal security.
Some of the ideas in the SCC prototype appear so dazzling that one can’t help marvelling where on earth Stefan’s inspiration comes from.
Stefan’s zest for design is clearly reflected in his wrist watch -- an incredibly cool Oakley ‘Timebomb’ watch where, according to the publicity, ‘each turn of the wrist becomes a flow of electrons, funnelled through micro-circuitry to drive the hands of time’.
He admits to being deeply into science fiction movies, with favourites including Blade Runner, Alien and 2001: a Space Odyssey ("maybe a bit dated nowadays"). Laughingly, Stefan adds: "I’m also a member of the World Future Society, which tries to build insights into how the future may look -- without using crystal balls! Trying to grasp what may lie ahead is about understanding where we’ve been, where we are today and then connect the dots to make ‘a future’."
In reality, Stefan says his creativity comes from ‘everywhere’. "Probably the largest challenge is mixing our creativity with constraints relating to safety, technical, legal and economic issues to produce something really special, something timeless that won’t look out of date seven years from now."
He doesn’t view the Volvo SCC as having been radical. "My battle was between either going really crazy or doing a car that was believable. I found a middle way with a modern design that doesn’t alienate people into thinking it’s just another crazy prototype."
So what car does Stefan drive? "I’m driving a Volvo S60 Bi-fuel sedan. It’s black, got 18-inch wheels and, considering it’s eco-friendly, looks real sporty. Volvo has also shown that safety and performance can go hand-in-glove. For me, the SCC is not just a car, but is a wake-up call for the auto industry. It’s taking safety to the nth degree in a beautiful, modern sculptured shape."
With that that kind of design vista, one can just imagine Star Trek fans among Volvo Cars bosses imploring Scotty to take his time before beaming Stefan up!
Volvo Car Corporation sells over 400,000 cars every year in more than 100 markets globally. Making cars since 1927 and employing 27,000 people, Volvo Car Corporation is a member of the Ford Premier Automotive Group.
12 fast facts about the Volvo Safety Concept Car
The driver can see through the windscreen's supporting pillars thanks to a metal box construction combined with see-through Plexiglas. The pillars between the front and rear doors curve inwards following the contours of the seat frame to offer an unobstructed field of vision to the offset rear.
A radar unit measures the distance to traffic at the rear and to vehicles alongside the car, and alerts the driver to vehicles in the offset rear "blind spot".
Rearward-facing cameras integrated into the door mirrors can show the driver what is in the blind spot.
The headlight beams adapt to the road, for example by directing the beam in the direction that the driver is turning at a crossroads or in a curve.
An infrared light enhancer boosts night-time vision beyond the reach of the headlights.
A forward-facing camera monitors the position of the car on the road and alerts the driver to any tendency to veer off course.
The brake lights flash to alert following traffic in harsh brake application.
The rear seat has two electrically adjustable seat cushions whose height can be steplessly altered to give children the most comfortable and the safest seating position, irrespective of their height.
At the front of a car there is a cowl bag - a concealed external airbag that inflates to give pedestrians and cyclists added protection in the event of a collision.
A fingerprint sensor personalises the remote control unit. The driver only has to grasp the door handle to unlock the door - and the car can be started without a key.
The VPC transmits the driver's personal setting parameters to the car, which automatically makes the necessary adjustments to the driver's seat, steering wheel, pedals and so on.
A heartbeat sensor registers both human and animal heartbeats when the car is parked. The sensor is activated if anyone breaks into the car and hides inside it - or if a child or pet is left inside by mistake.