Volvo designs world’s first cyclist-saving automatic brakes

In cities around the world, bicyclists and motorists have an uneasy relationship, what with more vehicles powered by pedals and fossil fuels taking up the same space. Here in the United States, about 52,000 cyclists a year are injured in crashes, with 612 dying in 2010 according to federal statistics. In an attempt to give cyclists a fighting chance, Volvo will soon fit a system to new models that scans the road ahead for cyclists — and automatically slams the brakes if the car's about to strike one.

Based on a technology Volvo has built into cars since 2010 designed to prevent pedestrian accidents, Volvo's system includes a radar unit behind the car's grille, a camera in front of the interior rear-view mirror and central processors. The radar signals the speed and location of the obstacles ahead, while the camera identifies potential cyclists, and both keep an electronic eye on moving objects. If both sensors believe the car is closing in on the cyclist too quickly, they will flash a warning light and pulses the brakes up to full power without the driver's input.

Volvo says it will add the cyclist-spotting tech to all of its models by mid-May. It's part of a larger safety campaign by the Swedish-Chinese automaker, which has a goal of ending fatal accidents in or around Volvos by 2020. Such automatic systems have been rare and somewhat lukewarmly received to date, and how well the technology works in every situation remains untested. But if Volvo's advances prove successful, a few grateful cyclists might even switch from two wheels to four.

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