Jonathan Newell finds out how Volvo is using connected sensors and cloud technology to create alerts to drivers of its cars and Volvo trucks.
Car manufacturer Volvo and its heavy goods vehicle counterpart, Volvo Trucks will share real-time data to expand coverage of the companies’ connected safety technology, a cloud-based system that allows vehicles to communicate with each other and alert drivers of nearby hazards.
This is the first time Volvo Cars is sharing safety related data with another company. The collaboration with Volvo Trucks represents the first step towards achieving a critical mass of connected vehicles that could have a significant impact on overall traffic safety.
Now, live and anonymised data will be shared between selected Volvo trucks sold in Sweden and Norway with the company’s own hazard-alert systems, and Volvo cars equipped with Volvo Hazard Light Alert system.
Volvo has a strong history of sharing safety knowledge with others in the interest of saving as many lives as possible. In 1959, Volvo opened the patent for the three-point seatbelt to all other car makers, saving an estimated one million lives to date.
“Sharing real-time safety data based on our connected safety technology can help avoid accidents,” said Malin Ekholm, vice president of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “The more vehicles we have sharing safety data in real time, the safer our roads become. We look forward to establishing further collaborations with other partners who share our commitment to traffic safety.”
Volvo’s Hazard Light Alert technology is the first of its kind in the automotive industry. As soon as any equipped Volvo switches on its hazard lights, an alert is sent to all nearby Volvo cars connected to the cloud service, warning drivers to help avoid potential accidents. This is particularly useful on blind corners and over the crest of hills in the road.
Hazard Light Alert has been available in Sweden and Norway since 2016, where it is standard on all 90 and 60 series cars as well as the XC40. Adding selected models of Volvo Trucks’ fleet to the cloud will cover more area, identify more potential hazards and boost overall road safety. Both Volvo brands represent a considerable portion of new vehicle registrations in the region.
“Connected safety allows Volvo drivers to virtually ‘see around the corner’ and avoid a critical situation or accident before it happens,” said Malin Ekholm. “The ability to see further ahead and avoid hazards is something we want to share with as many drivers as possible.”
By anonymising, validating and aggregating the data that is collected and shared, the initiative will comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that is rolled out across the EU this year.
According to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Product Safety Director at Volvo Trucks, expanded cooperation between different players is one of the most important keys to improved road safety.” If more vehicles are able to exchange real-time information about the traffic situation, it will lower the risk of accidents. With Connected Safety we are opening the door to the future, with the hope that more vehicle manufacturers will join in,” he says.
According to Almqvist, vehicles standing still by the roadside in poor visibility risk being hit from the rear, which can have severe consequences. An alert issued well in advance gives all drivers of nearby cars and trucks the same opportunity to reduce speed, adjust their driving to the traffic situation and avoid a collision.
In the longer term, the cloud-based service can be expanded with additional safety-enhancing functions.
“As the technology undergoes further refinement and more vehicles are linked to the system, real-time information will become an important complement to the various intelligent safety and driver support systems found in our trucks today. Connected Safety marks the start of a new phase in our ongoing drive to promote safe driving and prevent accidents,” says Emanuele Piga, Director Customer Solutions & New Services Development at Volvo Trucks
Wider sensor-based networks
The creation of such proprietary networks is the starting point for wider systems involving data sharing for common benefit. An example that already exists is the pan-European eCall emergency call system that automatically detects events such as air bag deployments or accelerations above a certain threshold within a vehicle to alert emergency services with information about the location and characteristics of the collision.
With improved vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications facilitated by low latency 5G networks, the potential to connect both roadside and in-vehicle sensors to the cloud and each other becomes enormous.
In this way, non-proprietary networks become possible to alert drivers en masse of such hazards as obstacles (such as collisions or broken down vehicles), road conditions (black ice, patchy fog) or even traffic signal status beyond the line of sight.
It’s also possible to alert drivers to potential dangers by recognising vehicles approaching from blind junctions, cyclists beyond the apex of a blind bend and approaching vehicles on the wrong side of the road, for example.
Precursor to autonomy
Apart from the very clear and immediate safety benefits of connecting sensors over local traffic networks, there is also the benefit for enabling safe autonomous motoring. As a set of logical eyes, the sensors provide vital information to autonomous control systems to enable them to go some way towards making the kind of decisions that would normally be classified as human judgement and therefore beyond the capabilities of AI based systems.
A great deal of testing and verification will be needed before reaching the stage of using distributed sensors for autonomous control but work is already underway at the major European automotive engineering and test centres to assess the viability of the technology and to aid manufacturers with simulation and proving ground resources.
With its first step into automated vehicle to vehicle communications, Volvo is demonstrating the pioneering approach to safer motoring that has defined the company’s approach for the last half century and promises to continue into the next era of motoring.
Safety in the cloud
When the hazard warning lights are switched on, the vehicle sends a signal via the driver’s Internet-connected mobile phone to Volvo Truck’s cloud service. From there, the information is forwarded to the corresponding service at Volvo Cars. An alert is then transmitted to all connected cars and trucks approaching the location of the vehicle whose hazard lights have been activated.
Connected Safety is applicable to the Volvo FH16, FH, FM and Volvo FMX vehicles equipped with Volvo Trucks’ integrated system for services and infotainment, depending on the truck’s specification and choice of services.
Additional accident-prevention safety systems for Volvo trucks include Adaptive Cruise Control for helping the driver maintain a pre-set time gap to the vehicle in front; Collision warning with Emergency Braking designed to alert the driver to the risk of a collision with the vehicle in front and to activate the brakes if necessary, and Driver Alert Support to alert the driver to stop for a break if the system identifies signs of inattentiveness.