Volvo Using Pedestrian Detection System To Spot Animals, Too

June 10, 2011

There's been a lot of news lately about cars that "talk" to one another: vehicle-to-vehicle technology that could, according to some studies, eliminate roughly 81% of crashes in the U.S. Now, Volvo is working on new technology to pare down the remaining 19% of accidents -- specifically those caused by animals in the roadway .

Volvo's tech comes in two parts: a radar system and an infrared camera. Together, they scan the area surrounding a vehicle, on the lookout for deer, moose, and the like. If the system senses an animal in the road, it posts an alert. If the driver doesn't respond, the system can even apply the brakes on its own.

Volvo's technology does, however, prioritize human life over that of forest denizens. If avoiding an animal is too dangerous (due to traffic or other hazards), it will calculate the best way to minimize the impact of a collision. There is even some discussion -- though Volvo isn't clear on how this would play out in practice -- of creating a system that can recognize individual animal breeds and generate responses based on that data. That would be a very useful development, since colliding with a raccoon is a far cry from hitting a moose.

If this technology sounds familiar, that's because it is: it's based on Volvo's Pedestrian Detection system, which launched last year. There's no word on when the animal-avoidance system might see the light of day, but Volvo safety expert Andreas Eidehall says that the automaker "will present a market-ready system within a few years".

And for anyone who might doubt the importance of this technology, Volvo's homecountry of Sweden saw over 47,000 accidents involving wild animals in 2010. Statistics for the U.S. are a little harder to find, but in the past, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that deer alone account for 1.5 million auto accidents each year, resulting in over 150 human lives lost and $1.1 billion in damages. Add to that squirrels, opossum, raccoons, moose, and even pets, and you've got a very serious problem, indeed.

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