Wednesday, February 11, 2015

News: Volvo and Jaguar-Land Rover introduce car safety tech to protect cyclists

It warms my heart when I see automakers doing things to make cycling safer. As cars and bikes continue to increasingly share space on public roads, the addition of new technologies to allow the two modes of transport to coexist. Many of these technologies simply focus around awareness, making drivers more aware of the presence of bikes in their immediate vicinity or cyclists more aware of upcoming cars. Primarily, Volvo and Jaguar-Land Rover have created new tech that they hope to incorporate into future cars to help drivers and cyclists to be safer together.

Volvo's approach is a two-way communication system that requires both technology in their cars as well as technology in cyclist's helmets. By allowing the helmets to communicate with the cars, it is possible to make drivers aware of the presence of a cyclist, helping to reduce accidents that result from drivers failing to notice a cyclist in their blind spot. Additionally, since the communication happens in both directions, the helmet will also warn the cyclist of the presence of a nearby car. The technology relies on Volvo's cloud network that links their vehicles in order to feed the data to the cars or apps which the smart helmets would be linked to, so it is likely that some kind of subscription may be required. And while this technology sounds like it has great potential, the relatively small number of new Volvo cars on the road today in the US means that we will likely see limited effectiveness of this technology unless other manufacturers also begin to adopt it.


Jaguar and Land Rover, however, are taking a totally different approach. Instead of relying on a two-way communication system, JLR's setup, known as Bike Sense, uses the various sensors already in the car for various existing safety tech and adds a layer of notifications on top specific to cyclists. For instance, if a cyclist is nearby, the car will notify the driver by playing the sound of a bike bell through the audio system. If a cyclist is detected in the blind spot, the car will use the air bladder in the shoulder bolsters to tap the driver on the side that the bike is approaching from. In addition to audio and physical cues, visual cues are incorporated as well using a series of LED lights hidden in the pillars and upper door panels that change color as a a cyclist approaches. And in a stroke of absolute genius, JLR has also incorporated door handles that vibrate if a cyclist is approaching, helping to reduce incidences of dooring. Best of all, the tech is calibrated to work with not only bicycles, but can apply to motorbikes as well.

While this kind of technology is still fairly rare, it is great to see that the automakers are recognizing the importance of their 2-wheeled compatriots on the larger transportation landscape. This kind of technology investment, especially as cars become increasingly aluminum intensive, and thus more costly to repair, should help cyclists be better protected, but should also help car owners to protect their investment as well. Plus, the added bonus of making our roads safer for everyone is a reality that cannot be ignored. As an avid cyclist, I am excited to see how this kind of technology continues to develop and hope that the increased awareness by drivers can lead to even bigger systemic changes in the future.

Click past the jump to read more about these exciting new safety technologies.