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Volvo opens up robot car playground

Crash course: Volvo’s new AstaZero proving ground will throw the Swedish car-maker’s newly developed crash mitigation technology into a virtual world full of driving hazards.

New high-tech proving ground opened to help fine-tune safer Volvo cars

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22 Aug 2014

VOLVO has revealed a new playground for cars that will one day potentially save the life of drivers that hop in behind their steering wheels.

The Swedish car-maker that was largely responsible for safety innovations including the three-point seatbelt and baby booster seats has developed what it said was the world’s “first full-scale proving ground for future traffic safety solutions”.

Translating that, it has opened an $80 million playground for a new generation of smarter cars – and robot drivers – near its headquarters outside of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Volvo will use the AstaZero site, as it is known, to expose its futuristic driver assist technologies to all manner of everyday driving scenarios to ensure that it protects occupants from the risk of both death and serious injury – a goal it hopes to achieve by 2020.

“You can simulate all types of real-world traffic scenarios,” AstaZero chief executive Pether Wallin said in a statement announcing the specialised testing facility.

“At most proving grounds, the options are more limited.”“The centre can accommodate a wide range of test conditions, such as those found on busy city roads, highways, multi-lane motorways and crossroads.

“These conditions are crucial for studying the way cars interact with moving obstacles such as other cars, pedestrians, cycles, mopeds, motorcycles, trucks, buses and even animals that suddenly appear.

“In certain studies – such as those involving complex traffic situations and high speeds – robots will operate the test vehicles.”

According to Volvo, the work at AstaZero will also include the development and testing of autonomous driving technology, and an intelligent driver support system designed to reduce accidents while improving the driving experience.

“Advanced systems are also under progress to further help prevent, for example, inattentiveness and driver fatigue,” it said.

The site covers about 200 hectares, or about a quarter of the size of Holden’s Lang Lang-based proving ground south-east of Melbourne.

It contains a 5.7-kilometre ring road, and a small suburban-style block of roads that replicates a typical urban environment.

The ring road will have 10 points where objects either block part of the road, or jump out in front of a vehicle unexpectedly, as well as two T-intersections where the language of the road signs can change. There will also be bus stops and lay-bys.

The urban environment, meanwhile, will include buses, bicycles, pedestrians and “other road user.”

The roads will represent a town centre with varying street widths and lanes, bus stops, pavements, bike lanes, street lighting and building backdrops. It also has a road system with different kinds of test environments such as roundabouts, a T-junction, return-loop and lab area.

A road made up of four lanes, meanwhile, will help researchers develop driver assistance features such as lane changes, different collision scenarios and crossing scenarios.

A separate high-speed area will help Volvo fine-tune high-speed vehicle dynamics such as avoidance manoeuvres.

Volvo’s first car to feature a new generation of driver assistance technologies is expected to be the all-new XC90 luxury SUV, which will be revealed in full next week.

Volvo has already shown its early work on driver assistance technologies, including a version of the XC90 that will be able to make its own way into a car park – although with a little help from sensors built into the car park’s floor.

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