Self-Driving Volvos Confused by Kangaroos

Forget the moose test, Volvo’s latest problem is the ‘roo test.

One of the biggest challenges in the development of autonomous cars is spotting and reacting to animals. Buildings, cars, and pedestrians are all relatively easy to spot, and they mostly look and move in similar ways. Wildlife is a bit more of a challenge.

During testing in Sweden, Volvo’s autonomous cars have had to face deer, elk, and caribou. The Volvo system can handle those just fine, but David Picket, Volvo’s technical manager for Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Australian wildlife is posing a whole new set of challenges.

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The software uses the ground as a reference point to decide how far away an object is. That means that it can be confused by high-jumping animals.

“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,” said Picket.

It gets even more complicated than that, though.

“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 roo,” he said. ” If you look at a roo sitting at the side of a road, standing at the side of a road, in motion, all these shapes are actually different.”

Solving the problem is crucial for autonomous driving in Australia. The country sees more than 16,000 vehicle-kangaroo collisions every year. Pickett said that engineers are still working on the problem, but that it would not delay the introduction of autonomous cars to Australia.


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