Self-Driving Car Technology Foiled By Kangaroos

Volvo says hopping throws off the vehicles' animal detection system.

As the inevitable robot takeover looms, it’s nice to know we have one surprising weapon in our arsenal: kangaroos.

Volvo has confessed that the springy marsupials are throwing off the “Large Animal Detection” systems being developed for self-driving cars, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reports. Those systems are meant to make sure the cars avoid animals along the road, such as deer or cattle.

"Just try and detect me."
"Just try and detect me."
binbeter via Getty Images

But the hopping of the kangaroos is messing with the detection, which uses the ground as a reference point, Volvo Australia’s technical manager David Pickett told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“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,” he said.

Originally, Volvo tested out the detection software on moose in Sweden. Researchers have been working on the kangaroo problem for more than a year.

However, Kevin McCann, managing director of Volvo Australia, told The Guardian that researchers would be able to solve the problem before the driverless cars are commercially available in 2020. He noted that any driverless car maker working in Australia would likely run into similar issues.

“Any company that would be working on the autonomous car concept would be having to do the same developmental work,” McCann said.

The BBC points out that the problem would hardly be a trivial one for self-driving cars in Australia, since kangaroo collusions are a significant problem for regular cars. About 80% of vehicle collisions with animals in Australia involve kangaroos, adding up to more than 16,000 kangaroo-related collisions every year.

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