27 September 2010

Video: Volvo is down, under

TopGear Oz man ploughs into pedestrian during Volvo safety test, footage ends up on YouTube

TopGear Australia’s resident Foreman, Stephen Corby, reports on a very bad day for Volvo... and a bad day for a bloke called Bob:

When you laugh so hard at someone else's expense that tears come out your nose and snot gets in your eyes, is it nervous, there-but-for-the-grace laughter, or does it mean that you're a little bit German inside?

I had cause to wonder this about myself after being involved in what will surely become a YouTube sensation; Volvo's Pedestrian Safety Demonstration Goes Hilariously Wrong. After four weeks of displaying its fiendishly clever, pedestrian-recognition, full-braking, life-saving new technology to more than 650 journalists from around the world, Volvo let a small group of Australian journalists have a crack at it.

With a suitably svelte Swede in the driver's seat, we parked in a carpark aiming at an inflatable dummy called Bob, and then wheeled towards him at 30km/h (18mph).
Using a combination of a camera, which can distinguish the heads and shoulders of humans from other objects, and a radar that can sense how far things away and adjust braking distances accordingly, the Volvo system would first set off an alarm and some flashing lights and then slams on the brakes, saving Bob from a bashing.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, nothing in the other 650 tests, but today was not Bob's lucky day and our sweet, Swede expert watched in horror as the car braked a little too late and sent the dummy flying.

Then it was TopGear Australia's turn. Disappointingly, the system worked brilliantly the first time and I slammed to a stop. But the next time... well, you've seen the video. This time the system didn't just brake too late, it didn't see Bob at all, and ploughed into him at 30km/h.

This made me laugh so hard that a little bit of wee came out. You can't quite tell in the clip but I'm in a kind of paralysis of stitches and unable to speak.

What it did mean was a very bad day for Volvo, a company that had suffered an even more horrific failure of its demonstration procedures just a few months before.

The reasons the test failed were explained to us - the dummy has no mass, so a reflector has to be used so the radar can see it, this reflector was incorrectly located and so it all went tits up - and the fact is, I have no doubt there's nothing wrong with the system at all.

As Jonas Tisell, manager of active safety systems for Volvo, pointed out to us, the company's hardly going to bring something like this to market that doesn't work.

"If you had had the dummy in order it would have worked," he explained. "It's very sad that you were the last group and this didn't happen."

The system is not infallible of course, but it does work 90 per cent of the time. And if you're too dopey to see a human yourself, as some Volvo drivers are, it's a fantastic idea.

Where my laughter turns to sympathy is that people aren't going to remember that, they're just going to remember the YouTube where the dummy got nailed. And they'll laugh. Cruel, cruel world.

Now share it...

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.