Volvo aims for zero accidents

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Volvo’s most recent new vehicle is the BZR-based 8900. The side-mounted sensors for pedestrian and cycle safety are fitted behind the front wheel. VOLVO BUSES

Volvo has always been a forerunner when it comes to safety, and is continuing to push safety technology forward with its latest generation of accident-prevention systems. Jonathan Welch takes a closer look

Anyone who attended the ALBUM conference earlier this year will have heard Volvo’s Senior Vice President for Global Bus Technology Mattias Rångeby speak passionately on the topic of safety. The company has always had a strong focus on the safety of the occupants of its vehicles, famously being responsible for the widespread introduction of the three-point seat belt.

The Swedish manufacturer has recently had a focus on its latest generation of safety systems, designed to keep those inside and outside the vehicle safe, and says its next generation of integrated active safety systems are an important step towards the Zero Accidents goal that Mattias spoke about.

Smart safety

Volvo Buses has unveiled its latest updated range of smart safety systems designed to assist drivers and further improve safety for bus occupants as well as other road users. Head of Safety Thomas Forsberg explained why the features, which will be available on Volvo’s products worldwide, go beyond the minimum legal demands of the new EU General Safety Regulations (GSR).

“Traffic safety is an important area for Volvo Buses, and we are ahead of the curve,” he said.

The company’s latest active safety systems include several features with a special focus on the protection of vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, in line with recent Highway Code changes to reflect the new ‘hierarchy of road users.’ Volvo adds that the safety systems also exceed the standards required by the latest EU regulations, as well as the legal requirements of most non-EU countries.

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“One example is our emergency braking system. It doesn’t only react to vehicles, which is the legal requirement, but also to pedestrians,” explained Thomas. “Another example is the Side Collision Avoidance Support, which monitors both sides of the vehicle instead of just the nearside, which is the legal requirement.”

Speaking about the decision to introduce the EU-mandated new technology worldwide, Thomas added: “We see no point in waiting. Looking at statistics of where accidents occur, there are many countries outside Europe that will benefit from these safety systems.”

The new active safety systems come as standard on all of Volvo’s electric and Euro VI coaches and buses, but will also be introduced in regions where Euro III and Euro V are the current standards.

And while the GSR is only enforced in Europe, Thomas believes it is crucial that the systems are offered across all markets. “We know that the traffic environment differs a lot between different continents. Some countries have come a long way on their journey to reduce traffic accidents, while others have a lot left to do. However, our systems are developed to be implemented anywhere, so from that perspective we are happy to contribute to a safer traffic environment on a global scale. Why wait? Safety has always been of utmost importance to Volvo Buses, so we are making our systems available across all markets, irrespective of legal legislation.”

Volvo Buses Head of Safety Thomas Forsberg. VOLVO BUSES

Three cornerstones

Volvo Buses says its integrated safety architecture is comprehensive. “Conditions for driving safely and avoiding collisions, assisted by active safety features, alongside collision protection systems aimed at minimising the consequences of unavoidable incidents – these are our cornerstones,” said Thomas, setting out the company’s three pillars of safety.

First up, Volvo says that driving safely is all about ensuring the driver has the best possible preconditions for maintaining a driving style with appropriate margins. Secondly, with collision avoidance, the advanced driver assistance systems provide early warning and can even take control of the vehicle to prevent a hazardous situation from escalating. And when an accident cannot be avoided, Volvo’s third cornerstone offers collision protection features to reduce and minimise injuries and damage.

“But safety is not just about technology and systems. It’s also about human perception and how the information is presented to the driver,” added Thomas. “Our in-house-developed system is integrated into the vehicle, and the driver feedback is shown in the instrument cluster right in front of the driver, instead of with various warning displays, which can create blind spots and even distract the driver.

Zero accidents

Although coach and bus travel is among the safest modes of road travel, Volvo accepts that accidents can still happen, and says that especially when heavy vehicles are involved, the road users outside these vehicles are often at the greatest risk.

Volvo’s safety systems monitor the full perimeter of the bus. VOLVO BUSES

“Every accident is one too many,” believes Thomas. “That’s the reason for our Zero Accidents Vision, and why our safety development focuses on safe driving, collision avoidance and collision protection – for the benefit of drivers, passengers, and to protect vulnerable road users.”

Volvo’s suite of new and updated safety systems includes collision warning with emergency brake, which warns the driver if there is a risk of collision with vehicles or pedestrians and if necessary initiates a pre-brake followed by a full brake application. Side collision avoidance support continuously monitors both sides of the bus and can warn the driver if there is a risk of collision.

Front short range assist scans the area in front of the vehicle at slow speed and detects vulnerable road users, whilst at higher speed the driver can draw on the help of adaptive cruise control which continuously scans the lane ahead, backed up by a lane keeping assistant and Lane Change Support which monitors both sides of the vehicle warns the driver if there is a vehicle in the adjacent lane and there is a risk of collision.

Intelligent Speed Assistance, Driver Alert Support and a tyre pressure monitoring system are also included in the suite of safety systems.

In parallel to the three pillars outlined, Volvo has three levels of safety perspective to help ensure it provides the best preconditions for safe driving to avoid collisions in the first instance and, if an accident is unavoidable, minimise the consequences.

The first and second of the three levels consist of ‘Safe Driving’ with clear margins for error, and ‘Collision Avoidance.’ Both use the active safety systems which assist the driver. Finally, ‘Collision Protection’ features protect the driver, passengers, and other road users when a collision cannot be avoided.

The side guard system is designed to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and cyclists. VOLVO BUSES

Many of the systems are already available on Volvo buses and exceed the EU’s General Safety Regulations, which start to come into force mid-2024 and aim to increase road safety and improve the protection of vehicle occupants and other road users. By introducing the legislation, the EU expects to save over 25,000 lives and avoid 140,000 injuries by 2038.

“Many of our active safety solutions go above and beyond what is legally required, and some were available long before they became mandatory,” added Thomas. “For example, Side Collision Avoidance Support is offered on both sides of the bus, even though the upcoming regulation only requires detection on the passenger side. Volvo’s Collision Warning with Emergency Brake has been updated and improved, and now embraces scenarios involving vulnerable road users.”

Another safety feature that supports safe driving through speed management is Volvo’s Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) with road sign recognition. This function shows the driver the current speed limit, plus other information about the stretch of road, for example low bridges or sharp curves ahead, again exceeding legal demands.

And Volvo is proud that its active safety systems have all been developed in-house, meaning full integration into the vehicle architecture as well as the driver environment. “What are the best sensors on a bus? Of course, it is the eyes of the driver and those should be on the road as much as possible,” said Thomas. “For this reason, Volvo Buses has designed an integrated safety system without multiple warning displays that can be harder for the driver to keep track of.”

Human machine interface

Volvo’s Acting System Owner for Driver Environment Ulrika Larborn explained more about how the ‘human machine interface (HMI) creates a seamless, intuitive interaction with the driver for safer bus operations.

“This two-way interaction can take place in many different ways,” she said, “for example through sound, light or vibrations. An example of how HMI works can be when you press a button to start your phone. Why do you choose to press that particular button? It is the result of both your previous experience and the knowledge you have acquired, but it is also about the design of the button itself – its colour, shape and placement. When you press this button, the machine, or in this case the phone, lets you know that it has registered your action – perhaps with a vibration followed by the light of the display. This is HMI – it is part of our everyday lives and it is all around us.

“We benefit from having a dedicated, in-house HMI research and development team within the Volvo Group. At Volvo Buses, HMI encompasses everything from the choice and design of components and their placement to all the information shown on the instrument displays. Drivers should also recognise that they are operating a Volvo vehicle, so we collaborate within Volvo Group to ensure that we follow the same HMI strategy, although of course adjustments are needed as our products, drivers and their environments differ. When it comes to the information we show to a bus driver, we need to think about its purpose and in what situation they should receive it. What is the most effective and safest way to communicate with the driver in that specific situation? Should we have a visual warning or information, or use sound or vibration?

Or should we use a combination?

“Right now, we are putting a lot of effort into designing the HMI for our instrument displays. We have to decide what information is most important to the driver and work out how to design the HMI to evoke wanted behaviour. We have many discussions like this to ensure that these components fit seamlessly into our product.”

Volvo’s Acting System Owner for Driver Environment Ulrika Larborn. VOLVO BUSES

Big responsibility

“Bus drivers have a very big responsibility – they transport passengers and they drive in environments where many people are present,” Ulrika continued. “It is incredibly important that the driver interacts with a good HMI so that he or she can safely drive the bus in all of these environments. It is also crucial that the HMI is intuitive and that the driver gets the right active safety system information at the right time and in the right place.

”Today, we can get so much information from the vehicle. For the driver to be able to absorb this information in a clear and simple way, the HMI must be well thought out. The driver must be able to find the right button or information without having to search for it, so that they can keep their eyes on the road. A very important part of the work is also not to overload the drivers with information but to find a good balance.”

So how does HMI help? “We use HMI to ensure that drivers have a very simple, intuitive, user-friendly and consistent experience that makes them feel safe and supported in all types of traffic situations. We also try to make sure that our HMI solutions meet the different needs of our users. So regardless of experience or knowledge, drivers should be able to operate our buses in a very safe and secure way. To create this understanding, we conduct observations and user studies.

“We also interview drivers to gain knowledge about how they work to understand what type of HMI works best for them. When we develop something new, we do a lot of testing in simulators and rigs, but we are also out driving in real buses, both with our team of experts and our test drivers. By developing an effective HMI, the driver will get the support he or she needs in a given situation. For example, it should be clear what a safety warning is about and what we want the driver to do in that situation.

“At Volvo, this is a continuous development – we are constantly adding more and more systems to our vehicles that the driver may need or can at least interact with. It is also important to carefully weigh up when the driver needs information and when they don’t. Some information is not necessary while driving for example. Instead, we make it possible to interact with these functions when the bus is stationary.”

Next steps

What does the future hold, and what does Volvo have in the pipeline next to make the driver’s job easier? “At the moment we are in the next generation of HMI and are working to see how we can simplify the flow of information to the driver even more,” Ulrika explained. “Today, the number of displays is increasing in the driver environment. This is especially true for city buses, where there are many separate operator systems that constantly demand the driver’s attention.

“At Volvo Buses, we want to remove this unnecessary stress for the driver. Some functions can be placed in the display while others may need to be kept as buttons or stalks as this can be easier for the driver to find them. It’s a balancing act that is very important, especially when it comes to safety. For us, safety is absolutely the most important thing we work with. Our primary goal is for the driver to be able to focus on the road and be able to see potential dangers and risks. We believe every driver, regardless of experience, should feel supported, safe and secure when they drive a Volvo bus.”

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