Just a few years ago the idea of a crash-proof car seemed ludicrous. But with the advance of technology and machine learning, it no longer seems as far-fetched as it once did.
Volvo said back in 2008 that by 2020 nobody would be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo. When the announcement was made, nobody thought that it could ever really happen. Remember, back in 2008 cars were still unable to drive themselves, even in concept. And artificial intelligence was still a pipe dream, meaning that nobody really took the technology seriously. Even the people who are involved in artificial intelligence today thought back then that the AI winter that we had seen for the preceding decade would continue for the foreseeable future and certainly that it would not find it’s way into our cars.
But Volvo saw things differently. Yes, it has focused intensely on mechanical ways of making cars safer. But it also saw that technology was going to advance to the point where it would be able to keep people safe without having to rely on a driver’s driving skills.
It should be remembered, however, that fatality free vehicles are not without precedent. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are currently nine vehicles – which include the Volvo XC90 – where nobody in the United States died between 2009 and 2012.
Like Tesla, Volvo includes lots of computer sensors and components in its cars to track how, where, and why crashes and accidents occur. The purpose of this is to collect data and to work out how to make vehicles safer and where they may be currently failing their drivers concerning safety. This constant monitoring is allowing engineers at Volvo to roll out new technologies in crash prevention. The technology also allows Volvo to predict how much safer its cars will be in the future.
According to one car accident lawyer, there are currently 115 fatalities per day and more than 150 billion dollars spent every year cleaning up after accidents on the road. Volvo wants to slash these costs to almost zero. Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s safety engineer, says that with the development of fully autonomous vehicles the car industry is going to push the limits of car safety. He said that if car makers are able to make fully autonomous vehicles, then they will be able to think through every possible situation that could affect a car and accommodate it.
Already we see advanced technologies entering cars today. For example, adaptive cruise control is already available on many models. It is a technology that uses radar and other sensors on the vehicle to detect what is on the road ahead. In this way, the technology is able to maintain a safe distance between the driver’s car and the car ahead and will automatically break if it thinks that the driver is not going to take action. At the moment these systems work best in simpler environments, like on the highway, but in the future, they will become so sophisticated that they will be able to navigate even the most chaotic of city streets.