Volvo’s latest tech detects sleeping drivers and phone users behind the wheel

The safest car ever is set to be unveiled in the near future, according to Volvo.

It’ll be the first car to monitor drivers using cameras and sensors to detect if they are drunk, falling asleep or overly distracted while at the wheel.

Due to be unveiled next month, the electric EX90 SUV will boast the latest technology that includes eight cameras, five radars, 16 ultrasonic sensors, and a cutting-edge ‘lidar’ system to create ‘an invisible 360-degree shield of safety’ that it believes can cut severe road accidents by up to a fifth. These are all designed to alert motorists to potential dangers around them.

To add to the collection of impressive tech, the EX90 will also have two interior cameras, a posture sensor and touch-sensitive steering wheel to permanently monitor drivers to gauge if they are drowsy, ill or looking at their phone while at the wheel.

The EX90 will take control and bring the vehicle to a stop if it thinks a crash could be imminent due to the driver being unresponsive to a series of alerts.

Volvo has been at the front of the line when it comes to new tech to reduce the number of collisions involving its latest cars.

In the past few years, Volvo has introduced many ‘firsts’ when it comes to in-car technology, which includes speed limiters on all its new vehicles that restrict drivers to speeds of no more than 112mph.

The Swedish car giant is also the first to introduce customers to a separate key they can give to their newly-qualified children and other family members that, when used to start the car, has a speed limit that’s been pre-set by the owners, which can restrict users to drive at a maximum speed as slow as 31mph.

Volvo claims that the tech being introduced in the EX90 is the most advanced version of its ‘Driver Understanding system’, which has been intensively developing for the last three years.

The motorists’ ‘eye gaze concentration’ will be constantly measured by two inside cameras and a sensor will also monitor the driver’s posture. One of the cameras is embedded under the digital driver instrument panel behind the steering wheel and the other is placed higher in the speaker housing.

This ‘maximises accuracy from different angles’ so that the system can determine if there might be an issue and ‘provide adequate driving assistance at the right time,’ the Swedish firm states.

The cameras focus on how long the user is looking at the road ahead and calculates whether their focus is somewhere else other than driving.

Volvo stresses that they are not recording the footage of the driver and that there is no output video data from these cameras. The cameras only measure a driver’s eye gaze direction and head position.

The user’s current state is detected by the information gathered by Volvo-developed algorithm and can then ascertain if the motorist is overly distracted, tired, drunk, or falling ill.

The cameras and sensor will also be able to understand if a motorist is using their mobile phone or another device at the wheel, which stricter new laws introduced on 25 March is now a punishable with £200 fines and six points if drivers are caught in the act.

The sensors built into the steering wheel will be able to understand if the driver has released their grip due to falling asleep or a health-related issue.

Emma Tivesten, a senior technical expert from within the brand’s Safety Center, states: “Our research shows that by simply observing where the driver is looking and how often and for how long their eyes are closed, we can tell a lot about the state of the driver.

“By basing its calculations on our research findings, the sensing system allows our cars to identify whether the driver’s ability is impaired, perhaps due to drowsiness, distraction or other causes for inattention and to offer extra assistance in a way that best suits the situation.”

Thomas Broberg, who heads Volvo’s Safety Centre says interior sensing is ‘one of the next safety frontiers’ in the automotive sector.

Volvo claims that the technology will continue to improve over time as it learns how driver’s behave. Any changes to the system will be available via over-the-air software updates that can be downloaded to the vehicles belonging to existing customers.

What happens if the driver is detected to have fallen asleep?

The driver will be given a series of warnings if the cameras, sensor and capacitive steering wheel detects something might not be right.

The first warning would be an audible beep, followed by a ‘soft nudge’, which will be a vibration sent through the steering wheel and seat.

If the driver fails to respond to these alerts due to them falling asleep or taken ill, the EX90 will be able to bring itself to a safe stop, automatically activating the hazard warning lights to alert other motorists, and then call for help.

According to Volvo this tech will help it to make significant strides to meet its future goal of there being zero crashes involving its cars in the future.

30 cameras, sensors, radars and lidar create a safety suite

The EX90, as well as monitoring the driver’s state, will also be packed with more road-analysing safety tech than any Volvo to date.

Its sensors, cameras, radars and new lidar system all uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to detect things up ahead and all work in unison to give a ‘real-time view of the world’ around the zero-emission SUV.

‘It’s a car designed to understand you and its surroundings to help keep you, your loved ones and others in traffic safe. It can also get smarter and safer over time, as it learns from new data and receives updates,’ the company claims.

The lidar feature will even be able to spot objects, animals and people in the road hundreds of metres away, day and night.

Pedestrians can be detected up to 250-metres away and something as small and dark as a tire on a black road 120 meters ahead can also be seen, even when the car is travelling at motorway speeds.

Volvo claims the suite of features will reduce accidents resulting in serious injury or death by up to 20 per cent.

The technology is also expected to improve ‘overall crash avoidance’ by up to nine per cent, which could prevent ‘millions of accidents over time’ in what Volvo calls a ‘big step in safety and for mankind.’

“The development of our latest safety technology is based on understanding human behaviour, rooted in decades of our own and others’ safety research,” Volvo says.

“Every one of us is likely to experience or be affected by at least one car crash in our lifetime.

“That’s not a judgment: we know that most of the time you’re a great driver, alert and ready to act when needed. But we’re all humans, and that also means to experience emotions.

“We know that distraction and tiredness are facts of life, and that they travel with us. We know that you may not always be at your best, for whatever reason. And in traffic, it takes only a few seconds for the unthinkable to happen.

“So our aim is to help you be a better driver and reduce the risk of a crash happening.

“The Volvo EX90 comes with an invisible shield of safety that includes our latest sensing technology, allowing the car to understand your state of mind and the world around you.”

The EX90 will be unveiled on 9 November.

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