Forget sexy: the car of the future is all about safety
May 3, 2003
GOTHENBURG, Sweden — First, a flashing light alerts you that a car coming up behind
is about to pass you. Then a tiny camera lets you survey the entire manoeuvre, blind spot and all. Suddenly, a computerized voice warns you to slow down. When you ignore the warning, your car
Aided by Swedish know-how in electronics and information technology, the country's car manufacturers are developing the "intelligent car", aimed at ridding the road of lurking dangers,
which they hope will be the transport choice of the future.
"There are numerous solutions to explore with sensors and
embedded systems," Johan Hultstam de Valcy of the Invest in Sweden
Agency told AFP.
"There are very good and cheap cameras on cellphones today. Adapting them to cars is undoubtedly a good idea," he added.
The agency has launched a research project aimed at developing security systems for the "intelligent car", which unites Sweden's two national car makers, Volvo Car and Saab, with car equipment suppliers, electronic organizations, technical universities, and
"Electronic platforms in a premium car today account for more
than 50 percent of the research and development costs," Hultstam
said, adding that even more money would certainly be dedicated to
electronic equipment research in the years to come.
"It's not our aim to have a fully automated system. We just want
the driver to make the smart decision" in a dangerous situation,
Ingrid Skogsmo, director of Volvo Car's security center, told AFP.
Volvo Car, which became a subdivision of US car manufacturer
Ford in 1999, is working on several embedded systems focused on
assisting inattentive, distracted and careless drivers.
The solutions are as numerous as they are clever.
In addition to having a camera installed on the rear-view mirror
to allow drivers to see cars passing in their blind spot, the car
of the future will be equipped with an automatic breathalyzer that
is switched on at the same time as the ignition and that stalls the
vehicle if the driver is over the limit.
A sensor with a range of 120 meters (400 feet) warns drivers
when they are getting too close to the car in front. And when a car
is really tailgating another vehicle, an embedded software program
automatically slows it down.
Linked by GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) to a
database that provides information on speed-limits across the road
network, another system trips a visible or audible warning each
time the vehicle goes too fast. A variant of this system can even
block the accelerator pedal to stop the driver from going faster.
"After a trial, most people think that ISA (Intelligent Speed
Adaption) should be extended to all vehicles," Torbjoern Biding,
the ISA project leader at the Sweden National Road Administration
and the mind behind the "anti-speed" system.
But are drivers really willing to see the massive horsepower
they paid top-dollar for bridled beyond their control?
"The time has not come to do such a thing. Consumers would
probably choose another car," Volvo Car spokesman Christer
Gustafsson told AFP.
The project therefore aims to alert drivers to dangers and to
avoid collisions rather than to encroach on the driver's sacred
"For us, the technology is more or less ready," said Tore
Helmersson, the head of security at Saab, now a branch of US
General Motors. "It is more a question of the demand from the
public, (of whether) they are willing to pay more for the service."
While waiting for the public to warm to their new security
gadgets, which will never be able to completely eliminate the risk
of an accident on the road, manufacturers are concentrating on
improving the solidity of their cars, so that they at the very
least can protect occupants in the event of of a crash. –Sapa-AFP
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