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Volvo is developing a system that will detect wildlife on the road and then automatically work to avoid or mitigate collision with an animal.

Volvo: I Brake for Wildlife

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Since 2010, Volvo has been offering “Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake,” which does exactly what it sounds like. That is, if someone is driving along in, say, an S60 equipped with the system, there is a radar system that can detect that there is someone moving in front of the car (say, stepping off a curb into the roadway) and a camera system that confirms that it is, indeed, a person (who must be at least 32-in. tall). There is also a camera, which confirms that it is a someone. If the car is traveling at 22 mph or less and the driver doesn’t apply the brakes, then the system applies full brakes to help prevent a collision.

Now it is taking this tech one step further, and soon it will be offering the means to avoid collisions with wild animals. This is a non-trivial problem as according to the Swedish Advisory Council on Accidents Involving Wild Animals, in 2010 there were over 47,000 such collisions. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, between 1993 and 2007, 2,499 people died in the U.S. as a result of accidents involving animals.

The system is using new hardware that performs infrared light reading—given that accidents with wild animals typically happen at dawn or dusk, this is important. They’ve yet to define parameters such as how far in the distance the animal must be before it is detected, but according to a Volvo spokesperson, “The system philosophy will be much like our pedestrian system. It detects, identifies, tracks, and responds in accordance with vehicle speed and other critter intentions—judged intensions.”

To develop the recognition algorithms for the system Volvo developers spent an evening driving around in a safari park, collecting digital data on moose, red deer and fallow deer.

Small animals—cats, dogs, and squirrels—are not going to be part of the system because of the limited threat to occupants as a result of a collision. According to Volvo, “The issue is more about large animals that can rotate, from impact, into the vehicle passenger compartment.”