Science

At Volvo, we really drive in a virtual environment

How does a driver react during a long trip if all of a sudden the car in front loses the mattress that was attached to its roof and it ends up in the middle of the road? This is the type of scenario impossible to test in real conditions, because it is too dangerous to be intentionally reproduced, and too rare in real life to draw reliable conclusions from past accidents. But that can still happen at any time. To improve the safety of their cars, manufacturers have long used simulation. Problem: as realistic as they are, these do not make it possible to affirm that the driver’s reactions will be perfectly realistic because he remains in a situation where if his reaction is not adapted, it suffices to reset the simulation and to start over. A second chance that you don’t have at the wheel.

Augmented reality is more realistic than simulation alone

This is why the Swedish manufacturer (but now belonging to the Chinese Geely) Volvo, is developing a new way of testing the reaction of the car and its driver in rare situations. The idea is to reproduce them in mixed reality for an operator placed in a real car operating on a test circuit. Concretely, the person behind the wheel puts on a virtual reality headset equipped with cameras. These headsets – here those of the Finnish Varjo – now have sufficient image quality to, connected to a computer, display the environment in real time and add virtual elements. But that’s not all. The driver is also equipped with a haptic combination, scrutinized by two cameras, and is seated on a seat which also records all his movements. “This equipment makes it possible to measure the driver’s emotion, stress or distraction, explains Timmy Ghiurau, innovation manager and expert in virtual experiences. Our goal is to understand what humans feel in these unexpected situations in order to improve the safety of our vehicles “. The demonstration thus relates to the sudden crossing of a momentum, or the stopping of a vehicle in front of one.

Virtual momentum will fit into the driver’s real field of vision

Volvo is also using this approach to think about the integration of autonomous driving. And in particular for the resumption of manual control of the vehicle when the AI ​​considers it necessary. “The driver will be watching a media or checking his emails: he must be brought back to driving, without rushing him, without generating stress, explains Alexander Erkisson, an engineer specializing in the human factor. We are thus testing solutions such as a belt tension, seat vibration, sound or light “. More generally, it is the entire ergonomics of the dashboard that can be tested in this way. What to hope to have cars which always better integrate the human factor, which is involved in more than 90% of accidents.

Crash cars to train rescuers

One of the difficulties that rescuers encounter when they have to extricate themselves is that they have to deal with wrecks that are much more damaged than those resulting from crash tests. Unique and unprecedented situations that require improvisation. In addition, they train on old vehicles, intended for scrap. As part of its communication on road safety, Volvo offered some of them to work on new cars, after having knocked them off a crane 30 meters high. Thus a dozen cars that were launched from different angles to simulate different types of accidents. Enough to praise the resistance of these vehicles by making a gesture for road safety: the results of this experiment will be disseminated in a document intended for rescuers around the world.

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