As technology takes time, Carl Johan Almqvist wants people to take traffic safety into their own hands.
While Volvo Cars has its “Zero Fatality by 2020” vision, its trucks segment envisions zero accidents with its vehicles.
They have had their naysayers but Carl Johan Almqvist, Volvo Trucks Traffic & Product Safety Director, was adamant that the vision is a possible one although no date has been set.
He said it will happen but surely not just over one day as the process is a gradual one and the first step is to start talking about traffic safety.
“The traffic environment is built on trust,” he told Asian Trucker when met in Gothenburg, Sweden during the Fuelwatch Challenge 2017 Grand Final in September. “You trust everybody in the traffic environment to play their role. When you meet a car on the road, you don’t know who is driving it but you trust that driver to stay on their side of the road and do what he or she is supposed to be doing.”
“The same goes for pedestrians, they trust a car that comes at a crossroad to obey the stop sign so they can cross,” he said.
Almqvist said Volvo Trucks’ vision is bigger than that of the car’s segment as it will not only protect the driver and passengers in the event of an accident, but to not have accidents with the trucks period. For this, the total traffic environment is to be looked at including motorcyclists, car drivers, pedestrians and objects.
It is very important however, he added, that the vision starts off with the absolute basics which is the human factor, because people these days tend to depend wholly on technology.
“Technology is helpful but what will happen to us as human beings if we get more and more technology to support us?” Almqvist asked. He gave an example of a driver who is reversing, would mainly rely on the sensor to beep if the vehicle gets too close to something, without even looking back. “We are actually seeing more accidents because of this,” he said.
One of the extreme challenges, he said, is to have a system that functions 100 percent which will never fail, as lives are at stake.
“If we compare technology with human beings, we are pretty fantastic,” Almqvist said. “I can look at you and still see the surrounding parameter. Just to get a camera to do the same thing is challenging today. I might need two cameras.”
In Europe there is a legal requirement that vehicles have collateral warning systems so drivers can slow down when there is another vehicle ahead. “As the driver of a large vehicle I couldn’t care about the car in front of me because I’m trying to look 10 cars down the road. Today’s technique puts all of my decisions for the car in front of me, so you have to understand how extremely efficient it has to be. And this is something that professional drivers are already doing which is why we still very much believe in the driver. An attentive, well-trained driver is extremely important.”
Volvo trucks is now looking at a multitude of things in self-driving vehicles, but for now in environments where they know exactly what is happening. They are doing self-driving in mines because they know the environment there but to do so in normal traffic is an enormous challenge with changing environments.
“The computer needs to understand what it sees, which part of it is the traffic environment? Is it a bridge, a road sign, a car? If it is moving it is probably a vehicle or something that should be expected in the traffic environment. If it is not moving, it could either be a road sign or a stopped car, the radar will not detect it because the signal is going to be the same. And I don’t want to just slam on the brakes because of a road sign,” Almqvist said.
“So that’s when we put in the camera to ‘go out,’ look and tell the sensors what it sees. If the camera says it’s a car, then that’s where we stop. So, these are some of the challenges but we’ll finally sort it out, it will take a while.”
Almqvist argued that the process must be taken one step at a time and that nobody will win if everybody goes out and tries to be the first with a system which is at 100 percent. “That’ll hurt us more than anything, so when we release a system, it will be to our knowledge, 100 percent okay. We play it safe.”
We will see a continuous development, even in the smallest of steps. “There won’t suddenly be a whole new thing. We are fine-tuning all the time,” Almqvist said.
He stressed that the traffic environment is something everybody is a part of so each needs to do their part. “People need to understand that technique alone is not going to save you. It will do its job but we need to do our share too, everybody, that’s the big message today because we tend to go very much into technique and let it take care of everything,” he said.