Taking what it calls “a holistic view” of truck safety, Volvo Truck Corp. put together a two-day seminar at its headquarters in Goteberg, Sweden highlighting research efforts to understand the causes behind many types of common truck accidents and demonstrating advanced safety technologies it is developing as a result of that research.

Addressing reporters from 32 major national truck markets around the world, the seminar focused on active safety systems designed to assist drivers. “A skilled and concentrated driver is the basic factor for safe driving,” said Lars-Goran Lowenadler, dir. of product and traffic safety for Volvo Truck. “We can never relieve him of his responsibilities, but we can help him to tackle challenging situations better. … In reality, this means that we must adapt the truck to the driver's abilities and limitations, not the other way around.”

The truck maker divided its advanced safety systems into four general areas: driver awareness support for aiding drowsy or distracted drivers, headway support for maintaining safe following distances and collision avoidance, advanced vehicle dynamics for roll-over protection, and driver visibility support for eliminating blind spots. The international press also saw presentations from Volvo Truck's accident research team and its experts on ergonomics and driver interactions with vehicle controls.

The awareness system is actually two distinct alerts based on a single camera that monitors a driver's eye movements. A visual and audible drowsiness warning is issued if the camera sees a driver closing his eyes more frequently than normal and the system senses jerky steering wheel movements. If the warning is ignored and the driver continues to exhibit signs of drowsiness, a second alert tells the driver to pull over immediately.

The second part of the system looks for eyes directed away from the road and other indications that a driver is distracted. Light emitting diodes create a flowing pattern of flashing lights intended to bring the driver's eyes back to the road ahead.

Both warning devices are controlled by what Volvo calls its “driver interaction support,” a smart system that feeds a driver only the most important information based on actual driving and road conditions. For example, it might delay an incoming phone call if the driver is involved in a complicated maneuver.

The system is smart enough to prioritize information based on traffic conditions, the driver's state of alertness and even stress levels, according to Volvo.

The headway support system takes the adaptive cruise control introduced by Volvo last year and adds automatic engine-brake or retarder application to maintain a set distance between the truck and a leading vehicle. Eventually the system will also be able to automate full brake applications when it senses a stopped or fixed object in its path. A third possible development would be “queue assistance,” which would automatically adjust a truck's speed in stop-and-go traffic conditions.

The advanced vehicle dynamics demonstration focused on two technologies. Already announced for Volvo's North American VN model last January, the first is an electronic stability program (ESP) that uses brake applications and engine throttle to protect against both a vehicle rollover or jackknife. Future developments anticipated by Volvo might include active steering by the system to maintain lane control or avoid a collision.

The second vehicle dynamics technology shown at Goteberg was a new tire pressure monitoring system set for commercial release this summer. Using wireless communications from the trailer and a display in the tractor, the system can distinguish between a slow leak and a major one requiring immediate attention. It also shows exact pressure in each tire when the truck is stopped.

Volvo's visibility systems help drivers monitor blind spots and make lane changes, using both video cameras and radar sensors. The system includes two LCD monitors in the truck cab to show hidden areas in front of the tractor, on the right side of the tractor, and directly behind the trailer. The radar sensors, placed below the passenger door, detect cars passing on the right. Intelligent controls for both filter out unnecessary information, ignoring stationary objects along side the road, or example, or only activating the camera displays when the system senses an object moving into a blind spot.

In addition to new technology, Volvo discussed the science behind all of its safety efforts. The process starts with its accident research team, which carries out detailed investigations of approximately 25 truck accidents each year. The five-person team, which includes a medical doctor, visits accident sites, interviews drivers and first-responders, and creates profiles of each, establishing a data bank that can be used to shape Volvo's safety technology work.

The truck maker also employs a group of doctors, behavioral scientists, ergonomics specialists and technicians to study how drivers interact with vehicles. This “human/ machine interaction” team's main responsibility is to ensure that any new technology actually supports the drivers' needs rather than require drivers to adapt to the technology. For example, work on Volvo's selective information display system was largely driven by the group's research.

“Any technical aid … is there to help the driver, not replace him,” Karin Svensson, the interface team's manager, told seminar participants. “To reap the possibilities of these new technologies, we must take an integrated approach with the driver in the center of the development process.”