Those outside-the-car airbags are pretty sweet, but what if we could make cars automatically stop before they, you know, hit people?

That’s what Volvo’s up to, with a newly updated auto-brake system that recognizes slow-moving pedestrians and now also fast-swerving bicyclists. “When bicyclists swerve in front of an automobile heading in the same direction, the setup immediately alerts the driver and applies full brake power — a world’s first Volvo says,” reports Engadget.

13-03-06Volvobikedetection
Volvo

Volvo’s promotional video of the technology in action presents the cyclist as a kind of clueless headphone-wearing dolt, while the car driver appears empathetic. Still, you can at least see how it works:

Bike Radar explains the tech in more depth:

The technology uses information from a radar unit in the grille and a camera in front of the interior rear view mirror to constantly assess potential collisions. If an imminent impact is detected the driver is presented with a red warning flash and the car activates full braking power automatically. …

The system doesn’t guarantee that the vehicle will stop but it should be effective in reducing speeds in a collision, and in many cases should avoid an impact completely.

The benefits for cyclists will be limited, as the system functions in front of the [hood] — as a result, its ‘field of vision’ is restricted to this area only. The technology won’t stop a car pulling out of a parking space on you but it could well prevent an accident at a junction, or stop a dangerous overtaking maneuver.

Technology can’t stop bad driving that endangers cyclists, but it could help create safer and more equitable urban streetscapes where folks on bikes aren’t riding in fear. It would be bad news if drivers came to rely on it instead of paying careful attention to the road, though. Hey, maybe Volvo could add a feature that counts up all the times a driver triggers the auto-brakes and scares them with the number once a week?