GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – For Volvo Cars, nature is a wonderful laboratory. The manufacturer recently learned of Dr. Claire Rind´s, Newcastle University, UK, studies into the migratory locust, the African Locust, which tend to avoid bumping into each other during flights.

“Our original thoughts centered on pedestrian safety,” said Jonas Ekmark, preventive safety leader at Volvo Car Corporation. “If we could trace how the locust is able to avoid each other maybe we could program our cars not to hit pedestrians.”

During the study, Dr. Rind learned that visual input is instantly transmitted to the insect’s wing nerve cells, seemingly bypassing the brain. Dr. Rind calls this the Locust Principle.

“Locusts are quick reacting and have reliable circuits, they do their computations against lots of background chatter, much like driving around town,” said Rind.

Volvo wanted to learn if locust sensory-input routing methodologies could be built into a vehicle pedestrian safety system. The goal was to avoid hitting pedestrians. Primary to this research was to synthesize a locust algorithm that could be applied to a car.

“As it turns out, the locust processing system is much more sophisticated than the hardware/software currently available. In the end, technology was no match for nature,” Ekmark said. “What we learned was very encouraging. However, rather than wait for technology to catch up to Dr. Rind’s Locust Principle, Volvo created a pedestrian alert feature that will be introduced in the near future.”When we started in late 2002, sensing and computational systems were rather weak.”

Volvo City Safety has been launched as standard in the new Volvo XC60. At low speeds, City Safety is smart enough to bring the XC60 to a complete stop should the vehicle in front suddenly stop.

“Beyond City Safety our next step will be our first pedestrian avoidance feature,” said Jonas Ekmark. “Although City Safety is not related to our Locust research, we are confident that our first pedestrian auto brake feature will be very good at taking actions to help avoid hitting pedestrians.”

While some interesting ideas came from the “locust” study, Volvo still has many more years of research ahead to bring that small locust brain into its cars.

“We have found a lowly locust has man beat, at least for now,” Ekmark concluded.