A vehicle that's so safe, nobody will die in it? New technologies are bringing us ever closer to that goal.
To generate the data required for better simulations, Volvo has launched 100 test cars in Europe that are collecting driving-condition data over three years, equipped with video cameras and eye-tracking sensors that will aid further research and simulation. The project will collect about three million km of live driving data and will help uncover the results of impacts that are less common than front and rear collisions. Broberg says this data is required if Volvo is to reach its zero-fatality goal.
"There will be a combination of protective enhancements and collision avoidance," says Broberg. "This will be a groundbreaker for safety, as soon as you get communication between vehicles and between the vehicle and the infrastructure within the next 10 years, if not sooner."
The ultimate goal? Broberg says cars need to get better at performing actions that rely on human interaction today - anticipating what the driver wants to do (say, by evaluating head movements), reading road signs and adjusting speed based on driving conditions. "The car will know its state, that the road is slippery and [the driver] seems tired - there is something coming up in the road, so the car will act evasively," says Broberg.
Of course, a looming challenge for cars that rely on computers for their safety is that computers are not 100 percent reliable. Car companies address this problem by creating programs that check and recheck the vehicle state many times in a short period. For example, a Mercedes with blind-spot detection sends out multiple signals to verify that it's safe to make a lane change; the car also checks the state of the blind-spot detection system itself and warns the driver if it's not working properly, according to a company representative.
Although we're unlikely to ever see a car that results in absolutely no fatalities from car crashes, it will be an enormous achievement for the auto industry if it even gets close to that goal. According to the US Department of Transportation, 37,000 people are killed annually in crashes on US roadways; if even a fraction of those fatalities could be avoided, we'd be putting technology to its best possible use.