Volvo Admits Its Self-Driving Cars Are Completely Thrown off by Hopping Kangaroos

Jessica Miley

Volvo has hit some challenges in the land down under while testing its animal detection system in its self-driving cars. The Swedish car company admits that kangaroos confuse the car's Large Animal Detection system. The kangaroos are too unpredictable for the system which has been successfully tested against Scandinavian animals such as elk and moose. The erratic hopping nature of the kangaroos is apparently too much for the safety feature.

Volvo Admits Its Self-Driving Cars Are Completely Thrown off by Hopping Kangaroos

[Image Source: Mark Wagner/Wikimedia Commons]

Managing director of Volvo Australia, Kevin McCann, said there is plenty of time for the system to be engineered to recognize the marsupial as Volvo’s driverless cars are not set for release until 2020. Volvo's technical manager David Pickett explained that the system used the ground as a base point for gathering data, so the hopping movement of kangaroos made it difficult for the software to judge how close the car was to the animal.

“When it’s in the air, it actually looks like it’s further away, then it lands and it looks closer,” he said.

The system is successfully tested against Scandinavian animals

The detection system was designed in Sweden with four legged animals such as elk used in the developmental stages of the testing. Trials conducted in Canberra, Australia revealed the potential problem of the two legged kangaroo.  

Kangaroos are a huge danger on Australian roads. They are involved in 90% of collisions between animals and cars and in some cases have been the cause of fatalities. Roads are heavily signposted and cars that travel in kangaroo prone areas are commonly fitted with “roo bars” that protect the car and its inhabitants from damage if a collision occurs. Cars are also often fitted with a device that emits a high pitch whistle that is designed to scare kangaroos away from roadsides.

Volvo to launch driverless cars by 2020

Volvo has ambitious plans to launch its first fleet of autonomous cars by 2020. It has set the bar high by promising that there will be no fatalities or serious injuries caused by its autonomous driving system. McCann explains further, “The whole development process has to take in as many variations of conditions as possible. It’s a fairly drawn-out process. We don’t even refer to it specifically as kangaroo detection, it’s what we call small animal detection.”

Some of the autonomous technology is already available in Volvo's S90 and XC90 models. These cars are designed to maintain a specific, safe distance from vehicles in front and can detect potential collisions.  

The race towards fully autonomous vehicles underway

The race to develop the first genuinely autonomous vehicle is a close one. Google, Tesla and Apple are all serious players while Samsung has teamed up with Hyundai and is gearing up autonomous vehicle testing in Korea. Each company has a slightly different take, so there should be plenty of room in the market for everyone. It is expected the first cars we’ll see on the road will be part of fleets of vehicles driving as part of large commute type tests like Google’s Waymo project.  

Sources: TheGuardian,  Vocativ

SEE ALSO: How Driverless Cars Work

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