Swarming locusts, which travel in huge groups without colliding with one another, may lead Volvo engineers to design cars that can’t crash.
“Crashes will be a thing of the past in the future,” predicts Thomas Broberg, a Volvo safety engineer.
Broberg and his colleagues at the Volvo Safety Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, were inspired by locust-researcher Claire Rind of Newcastle University in the U.K.
Rind’s studies of the African locust reveal that during migratory flights the insects do not collide even though they travel in swarms of millions.
Broberg and his teammates hope to equip future cars with enough sensors and safety systems to emulate the ability of these insects to avoid collisions.
“We learned of Dr. Rind’s studies into the African locust that avoid bumping into each other during flights,” says Jonas Ekmark, a preventive safety leader at the Volvo Safety Center.
“Our original thoughts centered on pedestrian safety. If we could trace how locusts are able to avoid each other, maybe we could program our cars not to hit pedestrians.”
Says Rind: “Locusts are quick reacting and have reliable circuits. They do their computations against lots of background chatter, much like driving around town.”
Volvo safety engineers want to determine if similar sensory-input-routing methodologies can be built into a vehicle pedestrian-safety system, but attempts to duplicate the locust algorithm for vehicles isn’t yet possible.
“The locust processing system is much more sophisticated than the hardware/software currently available,” says Ekmark. “Our technology was no match for nature.”
Nevertheless, the Volvo safety team has designed a pedestrian-alert system the auto maker will introduce in the near future, and efforts will continue to eventually design cars that don’t crash.
“While some interesting ideas came from this study, we still have many more years of research ahead to bring the small locust brain into our cars,” Ekmark says. “We have found that a lowly locust has man beat, at least for now.”