Volvo planning to avoid hopping hazards

The good folks over at Malmo have made safety their top priority ever since the ball-bearing company produced its first car in 1927. Of c...

The good folks over at Malmo have made safety their top priority ever since the ball-bearing company produced its first car in 1927. Of course that focus has sometimes seemed a bit like Nordic obsessiveness over things that don’t seem to affect the rest of us, but their desire is grounded in something closer to home - the fact that in Volvo’s home country of Sweden, many of the pedestrians are of the moose variety, and colliding with one of those on an icy road in winter is not most people’s idea of fun.

The cars built by Volvo have an ability to protect passengers in ruminant-based collisions second to none, which has of course made them popular where antlers and ice abound. Volvo engineers are now taking a more antipodean approach, heading to Australia to develop avoidance strategies for kangaroos. A little known fact about the land down-under is that the much loved Aussie marsupial is responsible for more deaths each year than sharks, croc’s, or box jellyfish. Of course the kangaroo usually doesn’t fare very well either, so those clever - if somewhat boxy and boring - boys over in Malmo decided to come to the rescue.

Of course this is more than just about the unpleasantness of wildlife roadkill. More than 20,000 incidents in Australia involve kangaroos each year, causing more than AUD75 million in damages, not to mention numerous serious casualties and fatalities. An adult red kangaroo can weigh up to 200lbs, and belying its bulk, it can “hop” at speeds of more than 35mph, and bounding 25 ft high quite suddenly in a single leap.

It takes humans 1.2 seconds to react from the time he detects a kangaroo, and that is just too slow. So, Volvo took its City Safety research to the “outback” to make driving there a bit safer. Cameras and radar which are used to detect cars, cyclists, pedestrians, and dogs are calibrated to detect kangaroos, and the Volvo system reacts within 0.5 seconds, priming the brakes for a quick stop. If the driver doesn’t react to imminent danger, the car will, warning the driver and braking hard to avoid collision. No doubt the driver will be surprised at the sudden stop, but certainly less surprised than having a kangaroo splayed across the windshield.

Whilst we are sure that the Kangaroo population of Australia will welcome the new technology, the market for kangaroo-avoidance technology is of course somewhat limited. So we have to assume that the situation is a wonderful testing scenario to help Volvo reach its goal that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020. Volvo CEO, Håkan Samuelsson, did say that the company will accept liability for any accidents caused by Volvo's driving autonomously. Practising on Kangaroos may therefore be a very prudent strategy. 

A windshield full of Kangaroo, not a pretty sight.


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