Volvo develops 'intelligent' prototypes to cut queue accidents

  • 07-Aug-2009 10:25 EDT
Volvo driver.jpg

Driver behavior is monitored inside the cab and combined with data gathered externally to optimize safety and economy. (Volvo)

According to the European Truck Accident Causation Study published in 2007, some 47% of all truck accidents occur either in queuing traffic, with vehicles traveling in the same direction, or at high-stress situations such as road junctions and road works. To help reduce the accident rates in these situations, the European Union Project, Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport (HAVEIt), is developing technologies to help produce a new generation of “intelligent vehicles” equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems. This will enable vehicle speed to be automatically adjusted to traffic flow, and provide automated queue support, a temporary “autopilot” function, and active eco-driving.

Volvo Technology is one of 20 companies taking part in the HAVEIt project. Currently, the aim is to demonstrate the technologies in a total of seven vehicles, including three heavy commercial vehicles from Volvo, in 2011. To that end, the company is currently developing two vehicles: one focused more on safety systems, the other on systems that can demonstrate an environmental benefit.

Reiner Hoeger, a HAVEIt project coordinator, said: "One of the challenges is how the vehicle should communicate with the driver, what sort of displays, voice functions, and so on it should have. We all have different temperaments, so the system must recognize when the driver is feeling irritated or calm.”

According to Hoeger, the aim is for the driver to always retain some degree of control. “We do this through continuous dialogue between the driver and the system, where the vehicle becomes more or less automated, depending on the current circumstances," he explained.

The Volvo “safety” truck will be focused on developing systems that can help in low-speed queuing traffic. "The queue support system for trucks that is in production today works down to 30 km/h, but this is still a relatively high speed,” said Erika Jakobsson, Project Manager at Volvo Technology. “We are now working on queue support down to 0 km/h. What is more, the truck should automatically stop if the vehicle in front stops, and start moving again without the driver pressing the accelerator."

The other aspect of the automated queue support system under development at Volvo is to automate the current manual lane-departure warning system. The current system sounds an audible warning to alert the driver that he or she is drifting to one side or the other and should take corrective action. “Now we are examining an entirely automated process,” said Jakobsson.

Nine sensors are used to automate these functions. These include a lane and object camera above the windshield, a camera to monitor the driver inside the cab, a short-range radar sensor on each side of the vehicle, and three lasers. Jakobsson told AEI, “The laser monitors are part of the automated queue support system, which will ensure that the truck always drives in the middle of its lane without the driver having to do anything. We cannot give any closer details for the moment as to exactly what functions the laser monitors have.”

Regarding the driver monitoring, Jakobsson said, “There is one active system, a camera, which constantly monitors the face of the driver, and one inactive system—that is a system which only registers if the driver uses certain functions in the truck, for example, the stereo.”

Other equipment includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication to relay information from one vehicle to another. This means that if a car in a traffic queue brakes suddenly, that information is automatically relayed to the vehicles following behind, even before they see brake lights ahead.

Another technology used in the vehicle is an E-Horizon system, using GPS technology with very detailed maps to provide continuous information on hills, bends, and junctions further ahead and using the information to adjust the driveline accordingly for optimum efficiency.

Sensor technology is also a feature of the truck, designed to optimize environmental performance. The data from the sensors is used to control the diesel-hybrid driveline even more closely and make the best use of the diesel and electrical power sources. The system can encourage the driver to use the best practices to reduce fuel consumption.

Explaining how this is communicated to the driver, Jakobsson told AEI, “The system can, via the HMI, give notice to the driver—through signals, messages, etc.—if there is room for improvement in the registered driving behavior of the driver. For example, the system registers that there is a traffic light in front at the same time as it registers that the driving behavior is aggressive or fast. The system gives information to the driver to slow down. You can say that the system gives the driver ‘on-the-fly’ training advice.”

Hoeger hopes that some of the technology under development will be available on production vehicles as early as 2012. "But if we look further ahead, to perhaps 2020, even the more advanced functions will be in production by then,” he believes.

The HAVEIt project started in 2008 and has a budget of €28 million.

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