Volvo Connecting Cars & Cyclists for Safer Mobility

Volvo is shifting its safety mission into another gear—incorporating bicyclists who share the road. Volvo Cars, sports specialist POC and global telecoms firm Ericsson unveiled in January at the Consumer Telematics Show a proof-of-concept that they called the “world’s first connected safety concept”.

European accident data reveals that 50 percent of all cyclists killed in European traffic have collided with a car. In a bid to avoid blind-spot collisions and make the road a safer place, Volvo unveiled concept aims to connect a bike helmet and smartphone app to a connected car via the cloud.

If potential for collision is detected, the cyclist would be alerted by a series of helmet-mounted lights and the driver via a heads-up display (HUD).

Ericsson and Volvo have been partners since 2012. Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud is the service behind Volvo’s connected car service – Sensus – that has been available for all Volvo Cars since 2013. The relationship between POC and Volvo is much newer – established in January 2014. The Swedish triumvirate of collaborators have also enlisted the know-how of US fitness app Strava.

There is no getting around the fact that the “world’s first connected safety concept” is just that, a concept. Those expecting to see the connected helmet and car on the road in the next six months should prepare themselves for disappointment.

Magnus Lundgren, head of Connected Vehicle Cloud at Ericsson, tells TU, “The connected bicycle helmet is a proof-of-concept and will not be on the market in the short term.  In the long term, we believe it is important that everyone and everything on the road are connected to help provide a safer road environment”.

The concept’s proposed technologies include Volvo’s City Safety – camera, sensor and radar technologies that can detect, warn and auto-brake to avoid collisions with cyclists – and the Volvo cloud which has an API IT set-up to which road users send their GPS related data such as position, speed and direction.

According to Klas Bendrik, VP and Group CIO at Volvo Cars, this data would then be used by the Volvo cloud to constantly calculate the possibility that two road users, such as a cyclist and car, will cross paths on a collision course.

The Volvo cloud would then send information to the two road users based on the following criteria:

•        For the cyclist: if there is a car that is fast approaching from behind

•        For the driver: if he is approaching a cyclist from behind

•        For both: if a collision is calculated either front-to-front or side-to-side

The calculation on who is assigned which warning would take place within the Volvo cloud to ensure necessary computing capacity.

The car would receive an HUD proximity alert, ensuring that the driver is better informed of its surroundings and the cyclist needs to use a GPS positioning app like Strava to connect to the Volvo cloud, providing the phone’s GPS data and enable receipt of warnings.

The app connects via Bluetooth to a 200g POC Octal helmet complete with ICE tag, enabling proximity alerts of an impending collision to be sent to the cyclist. The app can send a warning via three RGB LEDs at the helmet-front plus optional vibration provided by a motor on each side of the helmet.

Despite teaming up with Strava, the project that was presented at CTS did not integrate with Strava’s mobile app, according to Michael Oldenburg, Strava’s senior communications manager. But he told TU,

“That said, our app has unique capabilities to deliver information to cyclists in real-time while they’re out riding as well as collect cyclists’ location data to combine with vehicle location data.” When it comes to the requisite work to get the app integrated Oldenburg reveals that significant integration work from all partners involved would be required.

Another app company that would be open to collaborating with the project’s Swedish trio is BikeShield. The mobile app uses GPS from both a cyclist and a driver’s smartphone.

Tracked data is then compared in real-time and when bike and car are at a vulnerable distance, drivers receive an acoustic warning instantaneously.  The concept is not dissimilar to Volvo’s and would make an attractive app addition alongside Strava according to BikeShield CEO Pere Margalef.

Margalef says one big challenge for the all-Swedish setup: “They are forcing people to buy their helmet whereas with the BikeShield, you just need your smart phone”.

Before the concept unveiled at CTS can be brought to market there are several hurdles that need to be overcome. “There needs to be set standards on how to connect to all car brands and there are also implications on the mobile network,” explains Lundgren.

Data sharing is also a challenge that needs attention, “Generally speaking different road users have to see the personal benefit in sharing relevant, anonymized data with others” states Bendrik.

A project like this could be a prime opportunity for insurance companies to work with app developers for UBI. Volvo claims that it has not received such interest from insurance companies.

While the future may offer many other uses, Strava’s Oldenburg says he is focused on the primary function at this time: “Certainly there are many potential business models and applications around this sort of technology, however our primary focus is on connecting and motivating athletes – and keeping them safe – while they are on the bike”.

While the details remain confidential, BikeShield admits that it has been in talks with interested insurance firms.

The Volvo project may in time see some exciting product diversifications, the automaker’s Bendrik says connecting cars with cycling helmets could be just the tip of the iceberg, “At the moment, we are still exploring the concept and its capabilities. But of course this technology doesn’t have to be limited to bicycle helmets – it could be integrated in other wearables”.

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