Watchout, dum­mies

Volvo’s safety sys­tem is hit and miss, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On Road -

THE safety of Volvo’s world-first pedes­trian pro­tec­tion sys­tem is un­der fire again af­ter a se­ries of failed tests in­volv­ing Aus­tralian jour­nal­ists.

The lat­est mishap fol­lows a crash early in the year when a Volvo crashed into a truck in­stead of brak­ing au­to­mat­i­cally to avoid it.

This time the pedes­trian de­tec­tion sys­tem failed to trig­ger as the V60 ap­proached a hu­manoid dummy at a demon­stra­tion at Verona in Italy. The in­ci­dent also re­vealed that Volvo en­gi­neers dis­creetly mod­ify the in­flat­able dum­mies to trick the car’s radar sys­tem into de­tect­ing a pedes­trian.

More than 650 demon­stra­tions passed with­out in­ci­dent dur­ing the V60 press pre­view in Italy, but things went wrong for the Aussies.

Volvo head of ac­tive safety Jonas Tisell was up­set by the in­ci­dent.

‘‘I am very sad this has hap­pened. We know the technology works, but I am not happy with the demon­stra­tion meth­ods we are us­ing,’’ he says.

Volvo be­lieves the fail­ures, in which the dummy was struck sev­eral times, oc­curred be­cause a small plas­tic panel cov­ered in alu­minium foil that sits in a sand­bag at the base of the dummy was not in­stalled cor­rectly.

Volvo also sus­pects a trac­tor and trailer di­rectly be­hind the dummy con­fused the sys­tem.

‘‘The radar goes straight through the air-filled plas­tic dummy so we put some alu­minium in the sand­bag at the dummy’s feet so the radar could de­tect it,’’ Tisell says.

‘‘ The re­flec­tor was not fac­ing ex­actly the right way and in­stead the sys­tem de­tected the trac­tor di­rectly in line of sight in the back­ground.’’

Tisell in­sists there is no need to make any changes to the cal­i­bra­tion of the pedes­trian warn­ing technology, but Volvo will re­view its pub­lic demon­stra­tion pro­ce­dures for its crash avoid­ance sys­tems.

‘‘The prob­lem with an in­flat­able dummy is that it’s plas­tic and has air in­side. The radar needs an echo, it looks for the body mass, and the radar doesn’t bounce off an in­flat­able dummy. It can­not see it. It sees through it.

‘‘So we added a radar re­flec­tor a 10cm piece of plas­tic cov­ered in alu­minium foil in the sand bag at the feet of the dummy.

‘‘The sys­tem works on hu­mans. With hu­mans you have a mass that the radar can de­tect.’’

Tisell in­sists there is no need to re­cal­i­brate of the pedes­trian warn­ing technology, but Volvo will re­view its pub­lic demon­stra­tion pro­ce­dures for its crash-avoid­ance sys­tems.

Bounced: the Volvo’s sys­tem uses radar to de­tect pedes­tri­ans, but the sig­nals pass through the test dum­mies.

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