Kangaroos are involved in an estimated 15,000 collisions with cars in Australia each year, according to the country’s largest car insurance company. Kangaroos account for about 80 per cent of all collisions with animals.
With the enormous advances in assisted driving technologies over the past few years, you’d logically assume that number would soon start to decline as detection systems make their way into new cars.
However, Sweden-based Volvo recently discovered a kangaroo’s hop presents a unique problem for defence driver assist systems, because when the animals are in the air they appear to move further away, when they really are staying the same distance away.
“This totally confuses the systems,” said Ken Kroeger, chairman of Seeing Machines (pictured), a provider of intelligent sensing technology to the automotive, aviation, medical and other industries.
The car maker’s animal detection systems have no problem identifying animals that walk and run, such as deer, elk, cows and household pets. According to Volvo’s website, if a large animal appears in front of a car, the system can warn the driver about the animal and provide brake assistance in certain situations.
Kroeger, who spoke during the Industry & the Human Element keynote at Mobile World Congress Shanghai last Friday (30 June), said kangaroos are just one of the many problems facing companies developing the technology for semi-autonomous cars.
He noted the ‘handover’ from machine back to human is still a big unknown: “Nobody knows whether the average driver will be able to manage this process on his own, or whether the industry will have to provide technology to help manage it.”
The first level 4 cars, where the driver doesn’t have to think about driving, he reckons are still five to ten years away and will first be used in more controlled highway scenarios. Analysts forecast fully autonomous cars (level 5) will come to market in volume after 2035, with some predicting they’ll have less than a 3 per cent market share in 2050.
Long before reaching those milestones, the kangaroo detection problem illustrates the importance of verifying systems across all possible environments. Volvo first tested its detection system in Sweden in areas populated with moose, then found during trials in Australia it couldn’t recognise marsupials.
In another example Robert Bosch, an automotive parts supplier, had to adapt its braking systems after black swans caused interference, The Guardian reported (every car sold globally features an average of nine chips made by Bosch).
No doubt the self-driving industry, which is at the intersection of the fast-growing telematics and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors, will stumble on additional obstacles such as ‘hopping’ as it moves towards truly autonomous vehicles. As it overcomes them, insurance companies and animal lovers will certainly celebrate.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.