Volvo’s driverless car tech is baffled by kangaroos
If I could get away with it, I’d start every article with a kangaroo fact. No time like the present: did you know that a kangaroo rarely moves its hind legs independently of one another? They use the legs separately for scratching, and when swimming, but the rest of the time the legs move completely in tandem.
In a way, we’re all struggling to figure out the kangaroo, so is it really surprising that Swedish car manufacturer Volvo is with its driverless car division as well? The company’s large animal detection works perfectly well for deer, elk, caribou and moose, but is completely thrown by kangaroos. Not a huge issue for the majority of the world, but something of a deal-breaker in Australia, where there were an estimated 34,303,677 kangaroos in 2011 – and the country’s human population is only around 24 million. In fact, Australia’s National Roads and Motorists’ Association claims that 80% of animal collisions in the country involve a kangaroo. 100% involve a car, of course, but that’s not really the point.
To understand the problem, you have to understand how Volvo’s large animal detection works: the cameras and sensors in a driverless car work by scanning the ground, and because kangaroos can cover 25ft in a single bounce, up to a height of 10ft, the technology has a hard time keeping up.
“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,” explained Volvo Australia’s technical manager David Pickett in an interview with 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.”
Pickett claims that the problem won’t delay the deployment of driverless cars in the region, but that it won’t happen until it’s solved once and for all. That’s a smart move on Volvo’s part. Otherwise, they’d definitely find themselves answering to this guy: