Volvo’s experimental self-driving cars exhibit one key technical issue that the engineers are still trying to work out: how to avoid collisions with kangaroos. The cars’ on-board “animal detection systems” can recognize and steer clear of deer, elk, and caribou, but the systems cannot register marsupials.
Volvo’s Australian technical manager, David Pickett, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that kangaroos’ rapid hopping movements utterly confuse the system software. The systems which use the ground as a reference point and cannot accurately judge just how close a kangaroo hopping up and down really is.
“When it’s in the air, it actually looks like it’s further away, then it lands and it looks closer,” he said.
This might not pose a problem for potential Volvo buyers in most of the world. But it is a cause for concern in Australia, where kangaroos are responsible for 90% of collisions between vehicles and animals.
Volvo first designed the detection-system in areas of Sweden where caribou and moose are the native fauna. It only later brought cars with the system to a nature reserve in Canberra, Australia, for further testing. This is where the problem emerged.
The company is aiming to release its self-driving cars to the public in or around 2020—a target date Volvo shares with Toyota and Nissan, who designing self-driving models, as well. Kevin McCann, managing director of Volvo Australia, said that he expects that Volvo will resolve the kangaroo-blindness issue before then.
“Autonomous cars are a continuing development,” said McCann. “A driverless car does not yet exist, and developing technology to recognise kangaroos is part of that development.”