XC90 presents… the feeling of control

Maria Björler is Product Manager for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems at Volvo Cars. When she’s not developing new technologies, such as Slippery Road Alert, she’s training for triathlon and Swimrun competitions. This is her story.

INTERVIEWS: IAN DICKSON | PHOTOS: JOHAN WEDENSTRÖM

Ever since Maria Björler was young, she has had a fear of open water – which is not quite what you would expect to hear from a triathlon competitor. “The first time I got into the sea to swim I was terrified,” says Maria, who is Product Manager for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems at Volvo Cars. “I really thought I was going to die. I swam 100 metres and it felt like the toughest thing I ever did.”

In order to cope with this fear, Maria has had to train herself both physically and mentally. While there are still moments when feelings of anxiety can begin to rise, she says that she now has the mindset to conquer it. “It gives me the momentum to continue,” she explains. “I guess this feeling of needing to be safe is in my DNA. My father worked in safety at Volvo Cars, and when I was young he wouldn’t drive our car one millimetre until we had all put on our safety belts.”

Maria’s journey to her first triathlon – a half Ironman in Denmark last year – has been a long and tough one. To prepare yourself for a two-kilometre swim in open water, followed by 90km of cycling and 21km of running, takes a lot of practice. It also requires a seemingly endless supply of determination and an ability to overcome the angst that can befall anyone taking on such a task.

“It’s very crowded in the water and it’s very easy to feel frightened,” says Maria. “It’s claustrophobic, there are arms and legs everywhere and you get kicked a lot. It’s a risky situation to be in so I really needed to work on my confidence to feel secure in that environment.”

Maria started swimming competitively in 2014 when she took part in Swimrun competitions, a sport that originated in Sweden in the early noughties. It’s a cross-country race where you alternate between wild-water swimming and cross-country running. Unlike some related disciplines, you don’t change any clothes between stages on a Swimrun. It means you run in your swimsuit, with your goggles and swimming cap on, and even swim in your running shoes – which makes it particularly challenging.

“Swimming in open water is very different to a pool,” Maria says as she sits gazing out over the Västra Nedsjön lake, a half-hour’s drive west of Gothenburg. “It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s choppy. But when you have conquered it, that feeling is amazing. You feel like you can do anything. I’m so happy that I have overcome this fear.”

Montage of images inc still water, Maria Björler entering water in wetsuit, Maria Björler fixing swimming goggles and front light cluster detail

For Maria, putting on her wetsuit feels like putting on a “shield”. Perhaps because of her background at Volvo Cars, safety is something she always considers when training or competing. When she swims by herself, for example, Maria always carries a safety buoy.

“My father is very proud of the work I am doing at Volvo Cars,” Maria says. “When he worked here he was involved in passive safety – which protects you if you have a crash. Now, I’m working on developing the next generation of tech that helps to prevent a crash happening altogether. At work, I have a similar mindset to when I’m swimming. No challenge or problem is insurmountable. There’s always a solution.”

One of the technologies Maria is most excited about is the Connected Safety offer and its cloud-based functions, Slippery Road Alert and Hazard Light Alert. Available to customers in European markets, both functions allow cars to talk to each other in real time via the cloud to alert their drivers of potential danger ahead.

“I think in Sweden we are quite unique when it comes to thinking about safety,” she muses. “I guess it comes from our society, a society where we like to look after people.”

And with that, Maria stands up and surveys the vast expanse of the lake, adjusts her swimming goggles, and begins walking, carefully and assuredly, into the water.

Image of steering wheel boss of XC90 taken through (closed) driver's window

Connected Safety

• Our Connected Safety technology uses the power of connectivity to share real-time safety-related data with other vehicles and authorities through the cloud, to make journeys safer for everyone.

• Slippery Road Alert detects slippery patches and shares this information about the possible danger and its location with connected vehicles and road maintenance authorities.

• Hazard Light Alert uses cloud-based technology to warn you if another vehicle in the area has its hazard lights on, helping you to anticipate potential danger ahead and adapt your speed or driving style if necessary.

• Connected Safety is currently available in Sweden and Norway and is being rolled out across more European markets during 2019.