Volvo's Driverless Cars Can't Figure Out Kangaroos

The Swedes, geniuses that they are, have long led the world in conquering the moose test. But here's one thing they don't seem prepared for: the kangaroo test.

Volvo began looking into how autonomous vehicles would react when encountering animals over a year ago, and they noticed these marsupials a lot harder for computers to figure out than expected.

It turns out the hopping of a kangaroo throws off the car's detection system. The cameras and sensors aboard a self-driving car typically use the ground as a reference point. Volvo found that the system has a tough time predicting the random jumping movements of a kangaroo.

"We've noticed with the kangaroo being in mid-flight… when it's in the air it actually looks like it's further away, then it lands and it looks closer," David Picket, Volvo Australia's technical manager, told ABC. "If you look at a 'roo sitting at the side of a road, standing at the side of a road, in motion, all these shapes are actually different."

Volvo, long the arguable world leader in car safety, is at the front lines in the unending battle between beast and automobile. Volvo's Large Animal Detection system is already in use on the company's 2017 S90 and XC90 models. The system watches out for deer, elk, caribou and, that menace to Swedish drivers, moose. Volvo first began researching kangaroo collisions in Australia in 2015. Programming systems on how to spot a kangaroo's movements is crucial to the introduction of self-driving cars in the region.

Kangroos may not seem like as much of a threat as say, moose or deer, for example, if you live north of the equator. However, 80 per cent of animal collisions in Australia involve kangaroos, according to Australian general insurer the National Roads and Motorists' Association.

The land down under isn't the only place were drivers risk animal strikes on the road. Here in the U.S., crash deaths from animal collisions have been increasing over the past 20 years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 186 deaths from animal collisions in 2015, up 75 deaths or 84 per cent per cent since 1995. The 1.5 million total deer-vehicle total collisions each year results in tens of thousands of injuries and over $US3.6 ($5) billion in vehicle damage.

Image via Volvo

Hat tip to Sean!



    Having driven a lot in western QLD I've seen a fair number of roo strikes. When I was a kid my Dad used to put a little kangaroo sticker on the car every time we hit one. Got up to seven IIRC, and a front end loader (but that's a different story). Some of them were non-events - small grey kangaroos that were clipped at relatively low speed. The big red males though, 6 foot and as nearly 100 kilos. You didn't want to hit them at high speed. Especially since if you hit them in mid-leap they'd roll across the bonnet and hit the windscreen (that's scary).

    There were a couple problems with them, unpredictability combined with speed and maneuverability made them a nightmare to predict. Sometimes they'd sit quietly near the road and watch, other times they'd bound off, sometimes away from the road sometimes straight across it. We even saw one leap off the top of a cutting onto a car bonnet. So it's not at all surprising that the AI designers are having a problem.

      I hope Volvo can figure out how a roo is going to react, because I've never been able to. My current count is 5 (plus a feral pig), so kudos to your Dad!

      Having just done 10,000kms from BrisVegas to Darwin and back, the road kill count along the Barkly Hwy was staggering. At one stage there was a roo/wallaby carcass every 100 metres or so. Nearly as bad were the number of kites and wedge-tail Eagles sitting in the middle of the road who didn't want to get off their dinner.

        Damn! Feral pigs are worse than roos in some ways. Hitting a big one is like running into a fridge.

        Must have been a lot of feed along the road edges, or rather the feed in other areas was running out. The worst times for road carnage I remember were always when feed was scarce following a boom year for population growth.

        Ha yeah I never realised the wedgetails were carrion eaters until driving out west. I've noticed a similar thing with owls (not sure what type) at night too, driving home from Cecil Plains (west of Toowoomba).

        Fingers crossed but in 20+ years of driving I have yet to hit a roo myself. I don't know whether it's just luck, but I've got those little sonic animal repeller whistles on the bull bar of my ute.

          Those sonic whistles do bugger all. I tried them and threw them away after passing a few roos sitting on the side of the road, munching away. They never blinked an eye.

            Yeah I've heard stories both ways, some claim they're great and some say the do nothing. But for the sake of three bucks why not?

    Having even found roos in the burbs 15km north of the Melbourne CBD, I'll be damn impressed if they can figure out what the roo will do next. Honestly the best thing to do is to come close to a stop, but it's never the ones you see up front that really hurt you

    I'd rather have a roo detecting and targeting weapon system to blow the buggers into harmless little chunks.

    I minimise my driving during dawn and dusk although I've seen one cross the road at 10:30 am.
    I try not to pass one at speed. I stop if I see one at the edge of the road. Usually they then cross the road.
    If Volvo get roos right, what about emus?
    Never seen pigs but have driven around wombats licking water off the road.

      wombats=launch pads for road trains. The only trucks I've seen destroyed by wildlife were due to wombats.

      I've not clobbered any roos though I drove for years through roo country, the rule that worked for me was come dusk, slow the hell down. I've seen large reds but I've never seen a red come close to the size of some old grey males like the one that hit my cousins car broadside stoving in the doors and knocking the car off the road, or a big one I shot years back - took 8 in the head and neck before I took it's legs out and put it down - each shot was a hit, it's just a .310 only upset the poor guy. 3 of us blokes that night couldn't get it into the ute so we roped it half on and dragged it back to butcher. god it was massive.. that one always put me off driving fast where I was likely to encounter something that big.

        Never come across a wombat on the road thankfully. Seen a few echidnas though. My mum (lives near Kingaroy) lost two tyres and one rim to them in a week. I was up visiting her a few days after and she says "watch up for echidnas" on the way home jokingly. I'm not even a kilometre away and I come round a corner and there's an echidna waddling across the middle of the road. Must have been mating season or something the little buggers were everywhere.

    Family member, driving a Subaru, accidentally ran over a wombat. It ripped a hole in the sump.

    I had a kangaroo jump out of scrub near Port Augusta, headed for right side of my car. I actually accelerated, and almost got away - the determined sod managed to get his nose into the wheel well. He ripped off the rear bumper [yes, REAR bumper - friends made fun of that for quite some time] .

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