Quick! When you think about Volvo, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? 7 out of 10 of you would most likely think about safety, robustness and… Sweden, a country known for scoring well on all kinds of societal indicators. A Swedish man working at Volvo, Nils Bohlin, modernized the three-point seatbelt and was able to provide evidence to the company that it would reduce fatal injuries and thus set the standard for the industry at the time. In fact, he was granted a patent for this newly implemented device – the U.S. Patent 3,043,625. This time, it has nothing to do with seatbelts, but another growing concern. . . regarding the inhibition and intoxication of people after having a drink or two. . . or three. In any case, this new Volvo-led initiative could really be another one that is industry-changing. Don’t drink and drive – because if you do – Volvo is there to stop you.
History in the making
Volvo has looked back at its historical roots and have addressed a problem that many have pondered over in recent years. Ever since the three-point seatbelt in 1959, Volvo Cars has wanted to be associated with safety and security. Just a couple of weeks ago, the company announced an attempt for all their new cars from mid-2020 to be limited to a maximum of 180 kilometers per hour. The purpose is to try to save lives on the roads. And now we have yet another act that will keep them on this path of safety. During a live broadcast called Volvo Cars Moments, the car manufacturer, on Wednesday afternoon, addressed three phenomena linked to safety during driving: the influence of alcohol and drugs, speeding and distraction. Tic-tac-toe. All of these issues were addressed in this broadcast and it came with an interesting solution which in itself is not new, but Volvo are trying to really standardise it, just like they did with the seatbelt.
Actually, what Volvo did was to re-think the whole model of addressing issues and not just think of a one-off solution. After decades of focus on protecting drivers from the effects of a crash, such as airbags, safety work today is more about preventing accidents from occurring in the first place. It’s all about understanding how we, as people, work and behave in the traffic.
Smile, you’re on camera.
Volvo Cars made it clear that it is ready to start using a system that, with the help of cameras, detects whether the driver is tired, distracted or has a slow reaction, which may indicate the influence of alcohol or drugs. So what? Well, if such behaviour is discovered, the car attempts to get the driver’s attention. If this does not help, someone from Volvo can call the driver and ask what is wrong or if they are in a sober state. As a last resort, the system can intervene and take the car to a standstill at the roadside or somewhere safe to park. This implementation of cameras is in itself not a novelty, as Cadillac has a similar infrared driver-assist system which nudges you if you’re not keeping track on the road. But just like the seatbelt, Volvo will seek to take an existing idea and improve it for society to bask in its benefits. The idea is that the company will install the cameras in the passenger compartment as well as “security solutions to handle wheel drunkenness and distraction” with the help of the platform SPA2 in early 2020. The number of cameras being installed in the vehicles and specifically where they are placed, the company has stated that they will come back to the question.
CEO Håkan Samuelsson was clear that the company wanted to start a discussion on the issue of driver monitoring systems. “We have the technical ability to do something. We can let the car intervene if the driver behaves badly. As an example: Should it really be part of the individual’s freedom to drive for 250 kilometers per hour outside a school”, he asked. As with anything related to cameras and technology in general, questions are also raised about privacy and whether “Big Brother” (from 1984 by George Orwell) is watching. He pointed out that “We don’t have the exact answer. But our mission is to conduct the discussion”, said Håkan Samuelsson [Source: NyTeknik].
Another new feature was presented at the event. The company now shares its knowledge of car safety in a digital library open to everyone. Lotta Jakobsson at the Volvo Cars safety center told how important the data has been for the company over the years when new security solutions have been developed. “We have collected data ever since the 1960s in a representative and continuous manner. Now we divide it for all cars to be as safe for all people”, she said. Volvo Cars’ news on safety work will, at the same time as the EU argue, say that functions for detecting distraction and steering wheel capacity may become mandatory in new cars in Europe within a few years.
Whether or not you agree with the privacy aspects of this, and whether you are a sceptic in the belief that such an implementation in vehicles will not be able to find the golden balance between privacy infringement, errors in judgement and keeping the roads safer – that’s a question that will stay until the function is rolled out by early 2020. However, you cannot sit there and judge Volvo’s attempts as previous ones, as the seatbelt speaks for itself, have set a standard that raised similar eyebrows back in those days. We are at a different stage, that is true, but experimenting with this in the right environments could well be the stepping stone to another standardized feature.
Evolvera – evolve in a new era