In addition, the Volvo SCC boasts a number of other design advances that markedly improve driver visibility:
- See-through A-pillars: Through the use of transparent Plexiglas, the A-pillars are made partially transparent. And by using steel box construction, there is no loss of pillar strength.
- "Invisible" B-pillars: The B-pillars curve inward at the top, giving the driver an unobstructed field of vision to the offset rear.
- Active rearview mirrors: Sensors in the rear of the car alert the driver when a car is in the driver's "blind spot." This is done through visual signals in the mirrors, augmented by an acoustic warning if another vehicle gets too close.
- Rearward-facing cameras: To enhance rear visibility further and reduce "blind spots," the Volvo SCC has several rear-facing cameras mounted in the back of the car. Images are displayed on a video monitor in the instrument panel.
- Adaptive headlights: The headlights monitor the car's road speed and steering wheel movements and adjust accordingly. For instance, when the car is driving at higher speeds, the light beam is given a longer reach. At low speeds, the beam is made shorter and broader, to light up a larger area close to the car. The headlights are even designed to adjust during turns, with the beam widening along the track of the curve. This instantaneous reactivity is made possible by the use of fiber-optic technology.
- Night vision: We've road-tested the night vision system marketed by Cadillac and were unimpressed. Nevertheless, Volvo proposes using infrared night vision in the SCC. Seems to us that the adaptive headlights would be enough, but we'll trust Volvo on this one.
In addition to the above vision-enhancing technologies, the Volvo SCC employs several other active systems designed to reduce the risk of accidents. These include the following:
- Collision warning sensors: If the distance to the car in front is too short, or the gap is closing too fast, the SCC's driver is alerted via a red warning light. The system can also be programmed to produce an acoustic warning.
- Lane centering: With the use of forward-facing cameras, the car's position in relation to side- and center-markers is continuously monitored. If the vehicle shows signs of veering to either side without activation of the turn signals, the driver is alerted via an acoustic signal. This is an excellent feature for monitoring sleepiness or intoxication behind the wheel.
- Flashing brake lights: Another simple but inspired idea employed in the SCC is the use of flashing brake lights. If the driver has to brake suddenly and firmly, the SCC's brake lights automatically flash, warning drivers to the rear. Although we think this is a great idea, Volvo warns that "it should be noted that flashing brake lights are still forbidden by law in many countries."
- Four-point safety belts. Volvo is also experimenting with the next evolution in the seatbelt. This should come as no surprise, since the company invented and perfected the three-point seatbelt some 40 years ago. The SCC contains two prototype four-point belt systems: a crossover harness (X4 CrissCross) and a brace-type system (Center Buckle V4). The X4 CrissCross is essentially a three-point safety belt with the addition of a retractable diagonal chest-belt; when in place, the additional belt forms an "X" across the chest thus the name. The Center Buckle V4 setup is similar to the five-point harness used in race cars, less the lower-front strap; it forms a "V" across the chest when in use.
The above features would be enough safety advancements in one concept vehicle to satisfy most manufacturers. But not Volvo. The SCC also includes a number of personal security functions that ensure driver safety beyond the actual driving experience. These are made available to the operator by way of an advanced remote control called the Volvo Personal Communicator (VPC). The VPC remote unit has a built-in fingerprint sensor that identifies the operator. Not only does this lock out potential unauthorized users of the vehicle, but the remote can be programmed to identify multiple drivers, so an entire family, for instance, can use the same remote, while no one else would be able to access the vehicle. This opens up a whole world of programming functions via the remote. For example, as soon as the remote identifies a driver, the VCP immediately communicates this to the vehicle, whereupon the car automatically adjusts the steering wheel, seating position and more to the settings of that particular driver. By the time the driver slides behind the wheel, the car is ready to go. Additionally, the remote can be programmed to perform a number of telematics functions, such as emergency notification in the event of an accident. In this manner, it functions as an extension of Volvo's On-Call service (similar to GM's OnStar), a telematics-based service that offers everything from emergency roadside assistance to a vehicle locator. We found the SCC to be an impressive concept vehicle, loaded with the promise of future technology. We'll keep you posted as Ford and Volvo begin to incorporate some of these technologies into new vehicles. Here are several related links that might be of interest: