Swedish automaker Volvo is developing technology that can detect kangaroos to avoid the 20,000 collisions reported each year in Australia.
A team of Volvo safety engineers is in the Australian Capital Territory filming the roadside behavior of kangaroos in their natural setting.
The research is taking place at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra, one of the country’s hot spots for kangaroo collisions.
The data collected will be used to develop Australia's first kangaroo detection and collision-avoidance software.
The National Roads and Motorists Assn. says the more than 20,000 kangaroo strikes on Australian roads each year cost more than A$75 million ($53.2 million) in claims.
Volvo’s system will use radar and camera technology to detect kangaroos and automatically apply the brakes if a collision is imminent.
Senior Safety Engineer Martin Magnusson says while Volvo’s pedestrian-detection technology is geared toward city driving, animal detection is designed to work at highway speeds.
“Kangaroos are very unpredictable animals and difficult to avoid, but we are confident we can refine our animal-detection technology to detect them and avoid collisions on the highway,” he says in a statement.
Australian drivers know kangaroos are highly unpredictable and will step onto a road immediately in front of an approaching vehicle.
“In Sweden, we have done research involving larger, slower-moving animals like elk, reindeer and cows, which are a serious threat on our roads,” Magnusson says.
But kangaroos are smaller than these animals and their behavior is more erratic.
“This is why it's important that we test and calibrate our technology on real kangaroos in their natural environment,” he says.
Volvo Australia Managing Director Kevin McCann says the kangaroo research is the latest focus area to help realize the automaker’s vision that no one is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020.
“This type of technology is not designed to take responsibility away from drivers,” McCann says. “If the driver is inattentive, the car will warn them and eventually make a hard braking to avoid a collision.”
The kangaroo research project is an evolution of technology Volvo originally developed to detect cars, cyclists and pedestrians at day or night.
A radar sensor in the grille scans the road ahead to detect moving objects such as animals, cars, cyclists and pedestrians. An advanced light-sensitive, high-resolution camera in the windshield works in parallel with the radar to detect which way the object is moving and help the computer decide what action to take.
The system processes 15 images per second and can react to an emergency in half the time of a human. It takes 1.2 seconds for an attentive driver to detect danger and then apply the brakes, compared with about 0.05 seconds for the computer system.
When a kangaroo steps in front of the vehicle – and they do regularly – this could make all the difference.