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The road to safe and reliable semi- and fully autonomous cars is littered with technological hurdles but, in Australia, kangaroos are further causing manufacturers problems.

Volvo’s technical manager, David Pickett, speaking to ABC News regarding the problem, said: “We’ve noticed it 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.”

This causes the self-driving hardware to become confused by the kangaroo, as it is unable to work out quite how far away it is.

It’s also difficult to get the system to recognise kangaroos point blank, due to differences in size, gait and resting position. 

They’re not a hazard to be taken lightly, either. According to 2015 figures from motoring club NRMA, there are some 20,000 kangaroos strikes on Australian roads each year. These result in numerous injuries and fatalities, as well as insurance claims that exceed a staggering $75 million.

Similarly, road trains and many of Australia’s unmarked, unsealed roads pose a problem for semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.

Volvo Cars begins first ever Australian tests for kangaroo safety research

Volvo, however, doesn’t expect it to delay the company’s plans to launch autonomous cars in 2020 – but it does state that the problem will be tackled by that point. 

Danny Atsmon, CEO of autonomous driving simulation company Cognata, recently suggested using a simulation platform to expedite development.

In a column published on WardsAuto, Atsmon said: “Kangaroos confuse the vehicles because they hop off the ground and move through the air.

“Simulation can meet unique challenges like these more efficiently and less expensively than physical road-testing.”

Volvo has otherwise been testing on Australian roads since 2015, in an effort to resolve the issue.

Martin Magnusson, senior safety engineer at Volvo Cars, said: “Kangaroos are very unpredictable animals and difficult to avoid, but we are confident we can refine our technology to detect them and avoid collisions on the highway.

Volvo Cars begins first ever Australian tests for kangaroo safety research

“In Sweden we have done research involving larger, slower moving animals like moose, reindeer and cows which are a serious threat on our roads,” he added.

“Kangaroos are smaller than these animals and their behaviour is more erratic. This is why it’s important that we test and calibrate our technology on real kangaroos in their natural environment.” 

The research, along with the development of autonomous technology, is part of Volvo’s plan ensure that no one is killed or seriously injured in any of its new cars by 2020.

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