Wild animal road kills may be a source of food in some countries, including the U.S., but animals can also be the source of serious accidents and vehicle occupant injuries.
Volvo, which has developed one of the world’s most extensive portfolios of safety and accident prevention technologies, is now refining a system that reliably identifies an animal, alerts the driver, and if necessary applies a vehicle’s brakes.
The system is an extrapolation of the company’s radar and infrared (IR) technology that is used to provide similar alerts and braking action for pedestrian safety, including city environments.
Volvo active safety specialist Andreas Eidehall said the animal collision avoidance program was initiated last year but that much work remained to be completed as various technologies needed to be evaluated, software developed, and decision-making mechanisms established.
“During demonstrations of Volvo’s Pedestrian Protection with Auto Brake, we were often asked about protection from accidents with wild animals,” he explained. So the company started the accident prevention animal alert and action program. Although full details remain confidential to Volvo, the system now under development involves a radar sensor and IR camera that can register the traffic situation.
“It is essential for the system to also be able to function in the dark, since most collisions with wild animals take place at dawn and dusk during the winter months," said Eidehall. "The camera monitors the road ahead and, if an animal is within range, the system alerts the driver with an audible signal. If the driver does not react, the vehicle’s brakes are automatically applied.”
Eidehall’s team’s aim is for the system to function at normal rural highway speeds. Even if it cannot prevent a collision, it would mitigate its effects.
Although pedestrians vary in size, teaching the system to recognize different types of animals is not easy. To establish a database, a specialist team spent time in an animal park digitally logging film sequences of animals and their patterns of behavior.
The researchers focused particularly on moose, red deer, and fallow deer, having previously laid down a fodder trail. Research priority is at present given to large animals that can cause the most damage/injury to a car and its occupants.
Typically in Sweden, some 40,000 accidents involving wild animals are reported every year (47,000 in 2010), with moose topping the danger chart. In a collision, it is common for moose to roll across the front of a car and its windshield.
The Swedish Advisory Council on Accidents Involving Wild Animals put moose events at 7000 last year. And the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s statistics for the period 1993-2007 show that 2499 people died in road accidents involving animals, with November the most dangerous month, showing a typical 30% increase in accident rate.
So avoiding collisions with animals is regarded by Volvo as an important area to prioritize. “And we know that there is a considerable market interest in this type of safety system," said Eidehall. "We will present a market-ready system within a few years.”
The animal avoidance program is part of Volvo’s Vision for 2020: that nobody should suffer serious injury in a new Volvo.