Volvo AlcoGuard: Fuel-Cell Tech Breathalyzer

Utilizing fuel-cell technology, Volvo introduced a new hand-held car breathalyser, which transmits the results via radio signal to the car’s electronic control system. If you’re sober, the car will go. Exceed the blood-alcohol limit and your dear Volvo won’t budge an inch. The results of the breathalyser test are shown through three LEDs in the hand-held unit. As you might have guessed, the Alcoguard can be set to each country’s legal limit by a Volvo dealer.

Although the Swedes have been offering retro-fit alcolocks manufactured by external suppliers the past two years, Alcoguard is Volvo’s first own attempt. The system will be introduced as an option on the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 from the start of 2008 while in July it will be also be available on the S40, V50, C30 and C70. –Press Release after the jump

Press Release: Blow To Go – Volvo Cars Develops Alcoguard

  • Fuel-cell technology – accurate and reliable
  • User-friendly, quickly reading, stows behind centre console
  • Available early 2008 in Europe & USA
  • A third of accidents in Europe is alcohol related

Volvo Cars is the first car manufacturer to launch an innovative feature aimed at helping to reduce the number of road accidents caused by drink-driving.

Alcoguard is a fully integrated in-car alcolock that utilises advanced fuel-cell technology that is accurate and user-friendly.

Tool for sober decisions“Alcoguard is a tool to help the driver make sober decisions. At present, one in every three traffic fatalities in Europe is alcohol related. Our three biggest challenges for creating a safer traffic environment are speeding, insufficient safety belt use and drink-driving. The aim of our product is to help reduce the number of accidents caused by vehicles with a drink driver at the wheel,” says Ingrid Skogsmo, director of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.

Alcoguard will be introduced to market as an option on the Volvo S80, V70 and XC70 from the start of 2008. By July it will be available on Volvo’s compact car range: S40, V50, C30 and C70.

Sales of about 2000 units are expected a year, with sales increasing as the technology is released throughout specific global markets. Sweden is today the biggest market for alcolocks, and Volvo Cars will also offer the system in the rest of Europe and in the USA. The company-car sector, taxi operators, state authorities and municipalities will probably be the foremost customer groups, although the enhanced user-friendliness means that private car owners will also be potential customers.

Fuel-cells for securer resultsAlcoguard utilises fuel-cell technology – the same technology used by most police forces in Europe. Before the car can be started, the driver must blow into the wireless hand-held unit.

This unit is the size of a small remote control and it is stored and charged in a compartment behind the centre console. The driver’s breath is analysed in the hand-held unit which then transmits the results via radio signal to the car’s electronic control system.

If the blood-alcohol limit of 0.02 percent is exceeded, the engine will not start. Thanks to advanced sensors, it is not possible to use external air sources such as a pump to cheat the system.

“Fuel-cell technology is more expensive but it produces far better results. Unlike semi-conductors, for instance, fuel-cells only react to ethanol and nothing else. In the fuel-cell, the ethanol molecules pass through a sensitive membrane and an electrical current is generated. This current is then measured. A higher current reading means more alcohol in the driver’s breath,” says David Nilsson, Technical Project Manager for Alcoguard at Volvo Cars.

The results of the breathalyser test are shown via three LEDs in the hand-held unit:

  • Green: 0.00 – 0.01 percent, the car’s engine starts
  • Yellow: 0.01 – 0.02 percent, the car will start, but the driver should not drive
  • Red: more than 0.02 percent, the car’s engine will not start

Easy to useThe car’s information display shows messages to instruct the driver on how to use the Alcoguard. For example, the system will indicate if the test was approved or if the driver needs to exhale longer into the hand-held unit. The breathalyser results are stored for 30 minutes after the engine has been turned off, so the driver does not need to repeat the procedure every time he stops for a short while.

The preset limit of 0.02 percent (or 0.2 g/l) has been chosen to meet Swedish legislation. For markets with a higher legal blood limit, the Alcoguard can be set to the legal limit by a Volvo dealer.

Calibration and battery replacement are performed in time with the car’s regular servicing intervals. A Volvo service centre can easily remove the Alcoguard system if the car is sold.

The hand-held unit is wireless, which makes it possible for the driver to remove it from the car. Alcoguard will always give an accurate measurement of blood-alcohol level no matter where it is used; however, it must be within 10 metres of the car for the hand-held unit to communicate with the vehicle.

At room temperature, the system warms up to correct operating temperature within five seconds. Warm up is activated as soon as the car is unlocked. To ensure that Alcoguard also works in extremely cold and hot climates, the accompanying power cable should be used.

“We have aimed to make Alcoguard as convenient and user-friendly as possible. The technology should require as little extra work as possible from the driver. The easier the system is to use, the greater the number of people will use it,” says Nilsson.

Helps the driver make the right decisionsAlcoguard should be seen as a supporting system. It is always up to the driver to make decisions based on up-to-date information from Alcoguard. For emergency situations or if the hand-held unit is lost, there is a bypass function that can be activated. There are two alternatives for activating this function:

1. bypass is possible an unlimited number of times, or2. bypass is only possible once

Changes to these settings must be carried out by a Volvo workshop. There the system can also be reset if the bypass function has been activated. Every time this is done, the information is logged in the car, and only the owner has access to this information.

Leading-edge developmentThis is the first time Volvo Cars has launched its own integrated alcolock. For the past two years, Volvo Cars has been offering retro-fit alcolocks manufactured by external suppliers. Development of the new Alcoguard benefited from the fact that the technology has become cheaper, more accurate and more compact.

Its development was also carried out in close consultation with various public authorities, insurance companies and other relevant parties to ensure a viable and effective solution. The project has been partly financed by the Swedish Road Administration’s “Skyltfonden” * (personalised number plate fund) program.

“In the future, we will hopefully avoid alcohol-related traffic accidents. However, that requires good technology and also a change in the general attitude to alcohol and driving. To promote the use of alcolocks, we feel that an initiative such as a lower purchase price or a reduction in insurance premiums for cars equipped with the system – which might help prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated – is a good idea,” concludes Ingrid Skogsmo.

* Skyltfonden provides financial support for developments in the area of traffic safety. Funds for Skyltfonden come from the fees that car owners pay for personalised registration plates.

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