Volvo is on a mission to advance vehicle safety with innovative new technology, and to become 100 percent carbon free as an automaker, all in the name of protecting lives. This November, Volvo will introduce its all-new, all-electric flagship SUV dubbed the Volvo EX90 (it was once going to be called Embla, and will eventually replace the current XC90 three-row SUV). The EX90 will feature a new suite of sensors both inside and out of the car to advance its assisted driving and safety systems. Before we get a chance to look at it, though, Volvo is detailing its new safety suite of technology early.
The new Volvo EX90 will offer an advanced suite of eight cameras, five radar units, 16 ultrasonic sensors, and a forward-facing LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) machine. Altogether, the system constantly scans the vehicle’s environment creating what Volvo calls an “invisible” 360-degree shield of safety, with the LiDAR system generating a 3D map of the path ahead of the vehicle.
On the EX90, the LiDAR system will be mounted on the roof above the windshield in an equipment pod, where it has the best position for detection, and will be able to map pedestrians up to 250 meters away, or about 820 feet. Volvo says this new advanced system will also be able to detect hard-to-spot objects, like a black tire on a dark road at night, up to 120 meters in advance, or about 390 feet. Volvo says its new LiDAR and sensor suite will eventually be standard on all its models. The company projects the tech could reduce severe crashes by up to 20 percent, and reduce overall crashes by 9 percent.
While the design will be detailed in full at the reveal this November, Joachim de Verdier, head of Safe Vehicle Automation at Volvo Cars, did admit to MotorTrend that there were quite a few headaches for the design team trying to integrate the new safety tech, who weren’t a fan of the rooftop application initially. “It’d be like having eyes in your knees,” to mount the LiDAR sensors any lower. Ultimately, the safety engineering team got its requests, but the design team worked hard to integrate the tech and make it work as a Volvo design still.
Volvo won’t stop there. There’s also new tech inside the EX90, with two new cameras facing the driver for what Volvo dubs its “Driver Understanding” monitoring system. The two cameras monitor the face and eyes of the driver for any indications of distraction, drowsiness, or any other inattentiveness, and after a short period, the vehicle will begin to warn the driver and occupants to pay attention to the road ahead. Volvo says it adopted a dual-camera setup not for stereoscope vision or anything like that, but simply because engineers found it was very common for the driver’s hand or arm to block a single camera mounted behind the steering wheel, so they added a second off to the side.
Volvo says it has worked in allowances for “natural variations” in eye movement, and in an interview with MotorTrend, Volvo technical specialist Mikael Aust said research indicated most drivers maintain awareness and focus ahead approximately 80 percent of the time they’re driving. The new Driver Understanding system will also gauge whether a driver has been staring ahead for too long, as well, which could indicate they have zoned out and their thoughts are drifting away from the task at hand. The system also uses a capacitive touch steering wheel to detect driver inputs and when they’ve let go of the wheel. The car will be capable of chiming an increasing intensity of warnings, and if there’s no response, the vehicle will flash its hazards and safely pull off to the side of the road and stop.
Volvo says the driver monitoring system, aside from any required accident recording systems, will not record the driver with any video or images. The system needs a live feed of the driver’s face, but it doesn’t have a need to store any of that data, which would just be an additional burden on the limited data storage capacity of the car for no real purpose. Additionally, the system will not initially be used for any other purposes, like facial recognition or human vitals tracking, but other Volvo teams may come up with various use cases for the driver monitoring camera in the future.
The new sensor suite and interior monitoring system are critical touchstones in Volvo’s journey to offering a fully self-driving system one day, which the company still says is a few years away, at least. “We’ve made great progress on exterior sensing in the last decades, thanks to our committed work on crash prevention systems,” said Thomas Broberg, Acting Head of Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “Interior sensing is one of the next safety frontiers for us. We will continue to learn, develop and deploy new features step by step to help improve safety as our knowledge increases and matures.”
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