Automation Aids Safety Testing at Škoda

| Transport

Collision Avoidance Testing involves the use of inflatable soft targets of vulnerable road users

Remote-controlled robotics at Skoda ensure test vehicles and obstacles move at precise speeds over specified distances and times

Remote-controlled bicycles and inflatable cars are all part of the scenery at Úhelnice in the Czech Republic, which is home to the modern, high technology proving grounds of European automotive manufacturer, Škoda. Úhelnice is now the home of Škoda’s safety development programme and is where every new model and new piece of active technology is put through its paces and is also where the remote-controlled bicycles and inflatable cars come into play!

The first crash test that took place at the Czech manufacturer was in May 1972 with a Škoda 100, while the inaugural test of an active safety system, ABS, was in 1992. In the very earliest days of safety experimentation and validation, rockets were used to fire cars down roadways into walls. Thankfully test procedures have come on a long way since then, with a suite of robots and remote-controlled road users assisting with the testing.

Active Safety Technology Testing

Škoda uses the proving ground to develop its latest active safety technologies to meet its own stringent safety tests, as well as those set by Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme), contributing to a top five-star rating across the whole Škoda range. The 2023 Euro NCAP testing protocol places a greater emphasis on a car’s ability to prevent an accident or minimise damage caused by an accident, highlighting the importance of active safety features.

Features such as Front Assist, Lane Assist, Crew Protect Assist and Emergency Assist, plus all new systems, can be tested in a safe and controlled environment. Updated systems can also be developed further, ensuring result accuracy and consistent test parameters.

Front Assist is a collision-alert safety system which monitors the situation ahead with radar. Faced with a collision it applies the brakes, preventing the car from hitting the obstacle ahead entirely or minimising the damage if a crash is unavoidable. The advanced technology can work with a speed differential of up to 37 mph (60km/h), and is standard across the entire Škoda range, from the Fabia to the Superb and all-electric Enyaq.

Such features are important in helping prevent collisions not just with other vehicles but also with pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users that may emerge on the road ahead. Fatalities of pedestrians in the UK have fallen by 20% since 2019, the road user group with the single largest percentage drop in the last four years, according to DoT figures published in May 2023. Although many factors influence casualty rates, improvements in vehicle collision avoidance technology is a significant factor.

Test Technology

In order to develop Front Assist, Škoda safety engineers have a suite of technologies and equipment at their disposal at their testing site and proving ground, including inflatable, remote-controlled pedestrians, bikes and cars. These can be used alongside robotics systems installed in the test Škoda itself. For all of the test subjects – whether cars or “targets”, the speed and course can be pre-programmed, ensuring that every test is identical and allowing the engineers to tweak the safety technology for maximum effect.

Different scenarios can be simulated. For example, the car’s reaction can be assessed if a cyclist swerves within its path or a pedestrian steps off a curve at different distances. As the targets are inflatable, they’re quick and easy to re-assemble after every test run.

A system like Crew Protect Assist can also be tested using the inflatable and remote-controlled obstacles. This feature pre-tensions seatbelts, closes the car’s windows leaving a 5.5 cm gap and closes any sunroof completely. Crew Protect Assist is available across the Scala, Kamiq, Karoq, Kodiaq, Superb and Enyaq ranges.

With a test driver behind the wheel, engineers can programme and develop features that help motorists in the event they steer aggressively away from a potential obstruction. Should a driver swerve, the car uses systems like Lane Assist to assess the car’s surroundings – whether it’s a gravel or grass roadside, a white or yellow line, or another car. It can then help the driver steer, adjusting the rate of turn at the car’s wheels.

Extended development and testing commitment

Developing a new safety feature can take years, with hardware and software simulations, and then physical tests and up to 50% of that time can be taken up with validation and accreditation. An example of a system under such development is the “Emergency Assist” feature, which brings the car to a gentle and controlled stop with the hazard warning lights on and the horn sounding intermittently if the driver is deemed to have been inactive for 25 seconds. Škoda engineers working on such a system will test various onboard camera or radar positions, for example, ensuring maximum coverage and in turn maximum customer benefit.

Bringing benefits to today’s streets

Although the development and testing of safety systems is a constant process at Škoda, there is nonetheless benefits that are visible on vehicles that are available on the streets today.

Evidence of Škoda’s commitment to safety and the hard work of engineers at the test engineering site and proving ground can be seen in the latest Škoda Kodiaq model, for example. The second generation Kodiaq features new and improved state-of-the-art assistance systems for maximum protection, including Turn Assist, which helps prevent accidents when turning at junctions.

Another active safety feature available on the model is Crossroad Assist, which uses radar sensors and the front camera to warn of crossing traffic, cyclists or pedestrians when pulling out of a driveway or blind exit. Where appropriate, it triggers visual and acoustic warnings and then automatically applies the brakes.

Jonathan Newell
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