New auto feature protects pedestrians


In a demonstration, the 2011 Volvo S60 took over and slammed on the brakes itself when the driver was about to hit a pedestrian, or a dummy that looks like one, in this case.

"The reflection of our bodies, because we're made mostly of water, tells a radar that it's closing in, a camera then takes a picture of the image and processes it against all stored images of humans. We have about 10,000 stored images in the computer, to determine that it is indeed a human being," says Celesta Davis from Volvo.

The car warns the driver with a flash of light, then brakes for you if you don't respond. The form must be human and at least 32 inches tall, so small children and pets won't be protected. It only works up to a speed of 22 mph. The only way to disengage the system is to tap lightly on the brakes.

Similar collision-avoidance auto braking systems are already available from other car makers including Volvo, but pedestrian detection takes the technology one step further.

"It's much more complicated and sophisticated to build a technology that will stop for a human being than a car," says Davis.

A YouTube video shows a failure of Volvo's auto braking system in Sweden earlier this year. Volvo says it was a prototype vehicle and the problem was corrected.

Alison Lakin is associate editor of "DriverSide" -- a website for car owners. She says in today's market, high-tech is a key to success.

"It's a race. It's a race to gain sales and be the first to come out with the technology, but it also has serious benefits for the driver," says Lakin.

According to a national transit advocacy group, in 2008, 620 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in California, 72 of them in San Francisco and Oakland.

The Volvo S60 will start at about $38,000 with the pedestrian detection system available as part of a $2,700 technology option.

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