Volvo’s Self-Driving Cars Get Confused By Kangaroos: What Makes Them Such A Nuisance?

Volvo's Self-Driving Cars Get Confused By Kangaroos: What Makes Them Such A Nuisance?

It would seem that Volvo’s self-driving car research has encountered some unexpected snags Down Under. And while it isn’t unusual for automakers to run into some sort of hitches or issues while testing their autonomous vehicles, the Swedish carmaker has a rather interesting problem — kangaroos tend to throw off the detection systems of the company’s self-driving cars.

According to a report from Engadget, this rather unusual problem came as a bit of surprise, as Volvo’s detection systems had previously encountered large animals without any issue. Deer, elk, caribou, and even moose didn’t throw off the systems one bit, despite their comparatively large size. But while those animals and others walk like your average four-legged creature would, it’s a completely different story with kangaroos, whose hopping motion has proven to be too much to handle for Volvo’s self-driving cars.

Speaking to ABC News Australia, Volvo Australia technical manager David Pickett explained that the self-driving systems get confused because kangaroos appear to be further away while they are in mid-air, but seem closer than they should be once they land. The autonomous vehicles make use of the ground as a reference point, and since kangaroos hop to get around, that makes the systems incapable of accurately gauging the marsupials’ distance from a Volvo self-driving car.

Pickett added that the next thing Volvo should do is to refine autonomous driving systems to allow vehicles to be able to properly identify kangaroos.

“We identify what a human looks like by how a human walks, because it’s not only the one type of human — you’ve got short people, tall people, people wearing coats. The same applies to a (kangaroo).”

The kangaroo problem also appears to be a complex one for the team behind Volvo’s self-driving cars. ABC News Australia added that the automaker had first perfected its animal detection system by testing it on moose in Sweden. And although researchers were sent to Australia about a year and a half ago to study kangaroos in particular, it looks like Volvo is still trying to sort things out and make its autonomous cars capable of identifying the marsupials accurately.

Figures from Australia’s National Roads and Motorists Association show that kangaroo-related collisions happen over 16,000 times a year, with close to a thousand of them taking place in Canberra alone. That’s where Volvo’s research team is currently stationed, as it continues working on making kangaroos recognizable to its self-driving cars.

At the moment, Pickett believes that the ongoing issue might not cause any delays as far as launching autonomous vehicles in Australia goes. He added, however, that it’s important that Volvo’s self-driving car team irons the kangaroo problem out, among other adjustments that need to be made on the vehicles before they become available to the public.

[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]