Drivers in the United States don’t have to worry about unexpectedly coming upon a kangaroo darting across the road. But we’re not immune from the dangers of large animals crossing in front of vehicles, either. So, it’s comforting to know that one major automaker is devoting some serious effort into how to protect large animals – and the drivers who may come in contact with them – from injury.
That automaker is Volvo. The Swedish car company is actively testing for kangaroo safety in Australia. iSeeCars.com had the opportunity to speak about the topic via email with Martin Magnusson, Volvo Car Corporation’s manager, collision avoidance functions.
iSeeCars.com: How is the research with kangaroos tied in, if at all, with that going on with autonomous or self-driving cars?
Martin Magnusson: First of all, the research which we have done within the kangaroo area is partly connected to our work within autonomous driving (AD). The technology in our existing cars (e.g. City Safety in which our system that detects bicyclists, pedestrians and large animals is included) is a vital part to make our AD technology possible. Our AD technology, which is under development, consists of many other parts as well (such as sensors around the car). Hence the answers here relate to our kangaroo research and not our work within the AD-field.
iSeeCars.com: How did Volvo get involved in trying to teach kangaroos how to detect and avoid kangaroos in Australia?
MM: At the moment, kangaroo detection is base level research. The goal is to be able to detect and track kangaroos in different weather and light conditions. The aim is as always to build safer cars and avoid accidents directly or indirectly caused by kangaroos.
iSeeCars.com: What are some of the peculiarities trying to teach cars to detect kangaroos?
MM: Detecting kangaroos is different from detecting large animals, which is part of City Safety in the all-new Volvo S90/V90. Kangaroos have, in general, a different moving pattern compared to large animals. The jumping is specially challenging.
iSeeCars.com: How does the Volvo system differentiate between a kangaroo at the side of the road vs. one flying across the road?
MM: That is a good question and something that the research project is dealing with. The basic principal is to detect and classify the object as a kangaroo.
iSeeCars.com: How has Volvo changed its system from detecting moose in Sweden to kangaroo in Australia?
MM: This is still a research project and the final system solution is not defined yet. The plan is too use the same sensor (camera and radar) system as for other objects such as vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles.
iSeeCars.com: Applying this tech to cars in the U.S., will it work as well here? We have moose and elk, as well as deer, wolves, coyotes, bear, wild mustangs and other large predators and domestic animals on the roadways, particularly in wilderness areas and wide open stretches of highway in Montana and Wyoming, for example.
MM: Animal detection is an evolution and the journey has started with large animals. The plan is to increase brake performance for large animals and also widen the number of detected species. The choice of what animals to detect is based of accident frequency and collision violence and severity.
iSeeCars.com: What are some of the challenges of teaching a car what to look for and how to avoid it?
MM: The challenges are to understand the infrastructure and adjust speed and position; thereafter, to detect all kinds of objects and take the proper action in time to offer the occupants safe, smooth and efficient driving.
iSeeCars.com: How will Volvo use its flying kangaroo data?
MM: The data is used within the research project to learn more about kangaroo behavior and to start detection training. More kangaroo data for training and verification is needed before this is a customer product.
iSeeCars.com: What can we expect next? Will Volvo conduct tests in the U.S. with its advanced detection/avoidance technology?
MM: The U.S. is one of Volvo’s most important markets and, regardless of what kind of functionality, it is tested in the U.S. However, on-road testing on public roads shall not be mixed up with the extensive testing Volvo does in our closed-area proving grounds for accurate and safe sensor and function testing.
Kangaroos in Australia a Major Problem
Tony Moore’s story in The Sunday Morning Herald points out a fact mentioned by Volvo Australia’s engineering and certification manager David Pickett: the company is teaching its cars to react to kangaroos because every year in Australia there are 20,000 kangaroo-car collisions.
The article goes on to say that the annual cost to Australian insurers and drivers is $75 million.
The kangaroo problem in Australia is probably akin to the massive moose strike issue in Sweden, Pickett said in the interview.
In our view, it’s a lot like the problem drivers in America have to contend with when a large animal, such as a deer or moose, suddenly darts onto the roadway and can wreak tremendous damage to vehicles or cause the driver to panic and veer off the road, possibly resulting in a rollover and serious injury to driver and any passengers.
We’re all for this kind of advanced detection/avoidance technology testing. For now, consumers can check out the available safety technology offered in the all-new 2017 Volvo S90 and V90.