What you are looking at is not Lego's latest promotional toy - although you could be forgiven for thinking just that. It's the safety cage of the upcoming XC90 SUV, the first Volvo designed using the maker's Scalable Product Architecture, which aligns the seams and joins between the various elements so that individual components or assemblies can be stretched or shrunk without affecting the basic layout.
This not only offers elegant new design possibilities, says senior manager of safety strategy Jan Ivarsson, but also brings the company closer to its ultimate safety goal - that by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo.
The system enables significant improvements, both in protection in worst-case scenarios and in new features to help the driver avoid a crash.
“For example," explained Ivarrson, "seven percent of the safety cage in the original XC90 was made of hot-formed boron steel, while more than 40 percent of the structure in the new model is made of hot-formed steel, which translates into significantly improved strength - without adding weight or bulk."
NEW ELECTRICAL ARCHITECTURE
The scalable architecture also includes a new electrical layout that significantly improves the car's 'intelligence level', by making it easy to implement new technology in fast-developing areas such as sensor and camera technology.
In principle, the car's wiring loom is a network with four domain masters - vehicle dynamics, safety, car body and infotainment.
Control Engineer Peter Mertens explained: "Each master can be connected to every single unit in the whole system, in a single 'nerve system' controlling all the connections in the vehicle, which we believe is an industry first.
The driver is literally the core of the system, which is based on real traffic situations, surrounded by 360° zones that extend from technology cushioning the driver to putting him or her in contact with the world.
The rearward-facing radar, for example, detects a rear impact and tightens the seat belts to keep the occupants in place.
Cameras, radar and sensor technologies have been extended to detect more objects around the car and to offer support at higher speeds and in more situations, such as at crossings.
Ivarsson said: "One of the most important focus areas in collision avoidance is preventing unintentional road departures - the deadliest crashes of - by self-steering in critical situations. The system also allows for detection and auto braking for large animals and pedestrians - even in the dark."
But these sensors can also be used to make driving more by simplifying complex traffic situations, including adaptive cruise control with steer assist (which will be offered for the first time on the new XC90) allowing the car to automatically follow the vehicle ahead of it in traffic.
The Scalable Product Architecture can also accommodate new autonomous technologies as they are developed - all the way up to self-driving cars.
SEE AROUND CORNERS
Car2Car and Car2Infrastructure extend the driver's field of 'vision' way beyond the range of the camera, radar and sensors. Vital information can be shared and exchanged for a safer and more comfortable.
The possibilities are mind-boggling - from information about road conditions to advance warnings and detour options to avoid traffic jams, creating a green-light wave and even finding free parking spots.
The modern desire to be constantly connected is moving into our cars - but bringing it into the driver's seat is also a safety challenge. Ivarsson concedes that no amount of enforcement will shift drivers' attention away from the distracting flow of information.
"Allowing the car to act automatically is crucial when moving towards a future in which cars will not crash at all," he concluded. "Our new Scalable Product Architecture makes possible technologies that will bring that future significantly closer."