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Volvo's next-generation XC90, due later this year, will include significantly increased safety-cage strength without a weight penalty.

Volvo’s new scalable architecture puts emphasis on safety

Scalable architecture is commonly associated with chassis adaption for track or wheelbase dimensions and suspension characteristics, plus other facets including electronics and hydraulics, to meet the needs of a variety of model types. Volvo’s new SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) is all of that but it will also make a major contribution to the company’s aim that by 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.

The super-safety-conscious company will use the SPA to support environmental integration, which even includes developing technology to make the interaction between its cars and cyclists safer.

Jan Ivarsson, Senior Manager, Safety Strategy and Requirements, reveals that some 40% of the safety cage of the next-generation XC90 (to be launched later this year) using the SPA will incorporate hot-formed boron steel for “significantly improved” strength but without adding mass or weight. The outgoing car used about 7% of the material.

“This means that the SPA architecture provides significantly improved protection in worst-case scenarios. But it also facilitates innovative features that support the driver in avoiding accidents,” said Ivarsson.

The need to develop preventative safety systems alongside technology to make accidents survivable when they do occur, is exercising the minds of most OEMs and has long been part of Volvo’s R&D work.

Intelligence systems are central to that and during the last decade microprocessor development has demonstrated rapid strides, particularly when integrated with radar and vision technology

Peter Mertens, Volvo’s Senior Vice President for Research and Development, explains that it is this speed of evolution that the new SPA has been designed to assimilate, with a network incorporating what he describes as having four domain masters: vehicle dynamics, safety, car body, and infotainment, each of them linked into salient aspects of the whole vehicle architecture.

Mertens says this has created a single “nerve system,” and he adds that it will provide full control over all the connections in the vehicle: “This is unique in the industry.”

Vehicles built off the SPA will benefit from the next step in smart seatbelt pre-tensioning to enhance the security of their occupants. Rear-facing radar is used to detect an impact and trigger pre-event tightening.

The SPA will also carry technology to help prevent unintentional road departures, by using autonomous steering intervention in critical situations, says Ivarsson.

The SPA is also designed to accommodate the implementation of autonomous technologies “all the way to self-driving cars,” he said. Car2Car and Car2Infrastructure technology will be a central part of the program.

Ivarsson is convinced of the need to develop autonomous vehicle operation in the pursuit of safety beyond crashworthiness and into the realm of a “crashless” environment. “Allowing the car to act automatically is crucial when moving towards the vision that future cars will not crash at all,” he said. “The technologies enabled by our new SPA will bring us significantly closer to this ultimate goal.”

Volvo is planning to widen its programs to enhance safety issues concerning other road users. As well as pedestrians and animals, cyclists will receive special attention.

In a world where pedal cycles represent an increasingly large element of individual transport, Volvo is focusing on a further aspect of its safety technology.

Said Ivarsson: “Communication with cyclists around the car is a possible extension of our groundbreaking Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection technology. Providing the cyclist with confirmation that he or she is seen by the vehicle can make interaction between cars and cyclists smoother and safer in urban areas.”

Volvo is working with Swedish company POC on the project. POC develops high-tech protective gear for extreme sports’ athletes. The two companies will exchange knowledge to explore new ideas within safety and design, Ivarsson said.

A lot of safety technology will be riding on the SPA.

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