The Zero-Fatality Car

I ran across this fascinating article from ComputerWorld on Volvo’s goal of creating a zero fatality car by 2020.

As I read it, a number of human factors issues jumped out at me, but the focus is almost entirely on engineering issues. This does not mean Volvo will ignore the human factor. After all, I’ve previously posted on their well-done instrument panels. However, it would be fun to read about how they are including human reactions, expectations, and limitations in this work.

The focus on engineering solutions is typical in discussions of safety. Yes, it’s preferable to design out the hazard if you can, but the article even points out that “Another challenge is that wireless signals can be unreliable in moving vehicles” and “Of course, a looming challenge for cars that rely on computers for their safety is that computers are not 100% reliable,” which they would address by “warn(ing) the driver if it’s not working properly.” Sounds like some research on trusting automation might be helpful!

My favorite quote was “No amount of vehicle-to-vehicle communication will help when drivers make monumental mistakes, such as driving into a tree.” Since people do not often choose to drive into trees I think it would be useful to understand why they might make such a “monumental” mistake. Perhaps swerving to avoid a child in the road? Would the system disallow such a swerve to keep the driver safe, keeping the car on the original path?

We, the drivers, will still have to interact with our zero-fatality car to keep fatalities at zero and I hope we will be heavily included in this work beyond our heights, weights, and how much impact it takes to fracture our skulls.

Photo credit sidkid under a creative commons license.

3 thoughts on “The Zero-Fatality Car”

  1. An example of the intersection of technical challenges and trust in automation can be seen an embarrassingly public demonstrating of their automatic braking system failing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_83efj9Xdg

    Interestingly, Volvo chalked it up to human error, claiming someone should have noticed during setup that a battery failure was causing the system to malfunction. A Volvo representative further said that if a real driver had been present he/she would have seen the warning alerting a fault in the system.

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