Volvo safety tech to see in the dark

* Night vision for future Volvos * Cyclist protection too * and sensors to spot alcohol in sweat...

Volvo safety tech to see in the dark

Volvo is developing a safety system to help avoid collisions with vulnerable road users by both 'seeing' in the dark and automatically detecting cyclists.

It will be the fifth generation of the company's current wave of safety technology that in the new S60 can already detect pedestrians and automatically brake to avoid hitting them.

Seeing in the dark
While the S60 has proved clever enough to identify people dressed as giant beer cans at a festival in the US by spotting their heads Volvo's automatic braking system will take a step forward by using infra-red to detect people in the dark.

The profile and behaviour of cyclists is also being researched, so that future models will be able to warn drivers of potential collisions and automatically brake to avoid a crash if they fail to take action.

Like the S60, this automatic braking system will need to accurately identify vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, so that it doesn't accidentally brake for other objects, such as birds, that enter the car's path.

Sweaty palms to save lives?
These primary safety technologies aim to prevent collisions, or minimise their impact, so that secondary safety systems such as airbags and crumple zones have less work to do.

Another plan is to stop drivers that are over the legal drink-drive limit from starting their cars. Volvo already has an Alco-Lock system, but it's easy to beat by using a sober person's breath.

A new system is being developed, which will make this harder because tests would be demanded on the go. Further off still are steering-wheel-mounted sensors that will be able to measure the level of alcohol level in a driver's sweat.

Current technology requires samples from an area as large as a forearm, but eventually it will be able to tell if you're legal to drive from the moment a driver touches the steering wheel.

With alcohol accounting for 17% of road deaths, and drink-driving increasing in 2008, any such system could have a dramatic impact on road safety.