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Volvo Demos a Nifty Cyclist Detection System

By tracking moving objects, Volvo’s system could help prevent accidents.
March 27, 2013

Cyclists and drivers have been sworn enemies for as long as anyone can remember. Biking around Boston means dodging opening car doors, swerving around potholes, and enduring incomprehensible abuse from permanently enraged taxi drivers. Driving the same streets in a car, meanwhile, involves keeping one eye peeled for cyclists who run red lights, weave through traffic, and generally seem hell-bent on injuring themselves. A clever new system from Volvo could perhaps help thaw relations between these natural roadway foes.

Road sign: A feature in new Volvos will track nearby cyclists and pedestrians.

The system uses a camera embedded in a car’s rearview mirror, combined with a radar instrument in the grill to scan the road ahead. If it spots an object, an onboard computer will determine whether it is a cyclist or a pedestrian, and it’s ready to apply the brakes if someone swerves out into traffic or darts across road. Many cars already come with safety systems that will brake if a collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian seems imminent. These systems have probably saved lives. By tracking nearby moving objects, the Volvo system could prevent further accidents.

What I like most about this system is the way it enhances a driver’s awareness of his or her surroundings. If a driver doesn’t spot a cyclist, the warning flashed on the windscreen (see above) will serve as a reminder to drive more cautiously. Augmenting drivers’ ability to monitor the road is increasingly common—some BMWs, for instance, come with a camera system that reads traffic signs as they whiz by and shows the correct speed limit on the dashboard—and it can be preferrable to a system that tries to take over completely.

Volvo will demonstrate the system at this year’s New York Auto Show and says it will appear in virtually all its models from mid-2013.

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