The unusual way kangaroos move is making it difficult for autonomous vehicle sensors to identify them.

Volvo Australia’s Technical Manager, David Pickett, recently told the ABC that kangaroos completely throw off the car’s animal detection system.

“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.

Because the cars use the ground as a reference point they become confused by a hopping kangaroo, unable to determine how far away it is.

But Mr Pickett said it was even more complicated than that.

“First we have to start identifying the ‘roo,” he said.

“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.

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

The company nailed down their large animal detection software, first tested on moose in Sweden. But the research team sent to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Canberra 18 months ago to study ‘roos are still solving the Australian problem.

“It’s quite interesting for them,” Mr Pickett said.

He said it would not delay the eventual rollout of driverless cars in Australia, but it was critical to solve the problem before they were introduced.

According to the NRMA there are more than 16,000 collisions with kangaroos per year, with nearly 1,000 of those in the nation’s capital – the number one hotspot for ‘roo collisions in the country.
Road trains, unsealed roads among other Aussie challenges

In addition to difficulties detecting ‘roos, the cars will need to be adjusted for a few other Australian quirks before they are rolled out.

Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative Executive Director, Rita Excell, said Australia’s many unsealed roads, its unmarked highways and the huge road trains that barrel down regional highways were among the challenges.

“There are some things you don’t find in other countries. If you’ve got a car passing something like [a road train], it needs to understand what that is,” Ms Excell said.
But while regional Australia’s road infrastructure may need some work to be driverless car-ready, Ms Excell said Australia was well positioned to be one of the first places for the vehicles.

“The maturity is much further along than maybe is publicly aware,” she said.

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