Kangaroo-avoiding radar

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Kangaroo avoiding radar for grey nomads
Wandering wildlife is a constant risk for Outback drivers

The thought of a kangaroo bounding out in front of their motorhome or caravan as they cruise down a quiet country highway is enough to make many grey nomads break out in a cold sweat.

While most around-Australia travellers can’t imagine taking the Big Lap without having that nagging fear of an errant animal turning the dream into a nightmare, the designers at Volvo are working to ensure they can do just that.

The Swedish car maker is developing radar and camera technology that should be able to detect kangaroos and automatically apply the brakes if an accident is imminent. The company’s safety engineers have just been at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, west of Canberra, filming kangaroos’ roadside behaviour and will use that data to develop kangaroo detection and collision avoidance software.

“Whereas Volvo’s Pedestrian Detection technology is geared towards city driving, animal detection is designed to work at highway speeds.” Volvo’s senior safety engineer, Martin Magnusson said. “Kangaroos are unpredictable animals, but we are confident we can refine our animal detection technology to detect them and avoid collisions on the highway.”

The basic technology was originally developed for detecting pedestrians and cyclists, and then adapted for Swedish animals such as reindeer. With statistics showing some 20,000 kangaroo collisions on Australian roads every year, it seemed only commonsense to develop a similar system for our roads and our wildlife.

The way it works is that a radar sensor scans the road ahead looking for moving objects such as cyclists, pedestrians, cars … and camels! A light sensitive camera in the windscreen works in conjunction with the radar to help a computer decide which way the object is moving, and whether any accident-preventing action needs to be taken.

As a point of comparison, Volvo says it takes 1.2 seconds for an on-the-ball driver to detect danger and then apply the brakes, with its computer system able to do the same thing in a fraction of that time.

“Volvo’s ‘City Safety’ is state of-the-art technology because the brakes can be primed in milliseconds, much faster than a human,” Magnusson said. “We are only at the beginning of what is possible.”

Kangaroo detection is part of Volvo’s vision that no one is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020.

“In Sweden we have done research involving larger, slower moving animals like elk, reindeer and cows which are a serious threat on our roads,” said Magnusson. “Kangaroos are smaller and their behaviour is more erratic … this is why it’s important that we test and calibrate our technology on real kangaroos.” Volvo insists that this technology is not designed to remove drivers’ responsibilities, but to provide another safeguard.

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