In January, Volvo Cars will introduce a concept car designed to increase driver visibility with the use of eye sensors and redesigned A- and B-pillars.
The concept car is part of the industry's growing exploration of active safety devices, equipment that helps drivers avoid accidents. Historically, the industry has focused on passive safety equipment such as airbags and seat belts that mitigate damage once an accident has occurred.
The Volvo Safety Concept Car is designed to give drivers, including short and tall motorists, the best view of the road. Infrared camera sensors paired with a motorized system adjust seat, pedals, controls, center console and steering wheel to a driver's specific height, placing the driver in the optimal position.
The system offers 'superior vision for all drivers, small and tall, by placing (a driver's) eyes at a predetermined optimum location,' said Hans Gustavsson, Volvo Car Corp. senior vice president of research, product development and purchasing.
The concept car, which will be shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, incorporates several new features.
Redesigned B-pillar: A new B-pillar design reduces the driver's blind spot by 80 percent, Volvo said. The B-pillar is curved to match the profile of the front seat back, improving side rear visibility. Structural integrity is not reduced, Volvo said.
'The new B-pillar will almost eliminate the blind spot and also enhance the side impact and rollover protection,' Gustavsson said.
Redesigned A-pillar: The concept vehicle uses a 'see-through' A-pillar framework.
'With today's engineering expertise and metallurgy, the dynamic load characteristics are as strong as a solid A-pillar,' Volvo said.
Eye recognition technology: A video camera placed in the trim above the windshield scans the driver's face and locates the center of each eye in less than one second. The data are transmitted to a computer that determines how far the driver's seat should be raised or lowered to place the eyes at the optimal height.
Automatically adjustable driver controls: The camera eye sensor determines the driver's seated position. A computer compares the data with a programmed template. At the same time the driver's seat is moved, the brake and accelerator pedals, steering column and center console are adjusted to suit the driver.
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Volvo's Safety Concept Car also tries to improve night vision for drivers.
A fiber optic headlamp system matches light distribution to road speeds. At low speed, the light is short and wide. At higher speeds, the light beam is narrower and longer.
Active safety systems will be increasingly important in vehicle development, Gustavsson said.
Volvo is leading safety engineering within Ford Motor Co. Ford acquired Volvo Cars in January 1999.
'Our challenge is to develop leading safety technology within the company to be applied among all of our brands,' said Gustavsson.
Volvo will survey auto show visitors about seat belt design when it introduces the concept vehicle. Drivers will be asked whether they prefer a center-buckle V-shaped belt similar to those used in racing or a crisscrossed X-shaped belt.