Auto Tech

Volvo technology brakes for animals

Automotive safety stalwart Volvo is developing an anticollision system in vehicles to avoid accidents with animals.

Volvo is perhaps best known for protecting human lives in and outside of vehicles, and now the automotive safety stalwart is taking its safety mission one step further by developing technology that will help protect the lives of animals.

The new anticollision system is based on the company's Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake technology that first appeared in vehicles last year. It uses a radar sensor and an infra-red camera to detect animals within the vehicle's range, and alerts the driver to their presence. If the driver doesn't react to the alerts, the car will engage the vehicle's brake system and attempt to stop the car in time.

"During demonstrations of Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, we were often asked about protection from accidents with wild animals," said Andreas Eidehall, Volvo's active safety technical expert. "We can see in our accident statistics that this is an important area to prioritize."

Insurance company State Farm estimated that between the last half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, there were more than 1.2 million claims for damage in crashes with animals. In Sweden, where Volvo is based, more than 40,000 accidents with animals are reported each year, 7,000 of which are with moose, which pose a relatively high risk of personal injury to the driver.

Engineers have been working on the new project for about a year and will need to make the system work at dusk, dawn, and night--the times when accidents with animals occur the most frequently. Due to the short daylight hours, the number of road accidents involving wild animals nearly triples during November, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

Although the software is based largely on the Pedestrian Detection feature, the technology to avoid collisions with animals still needs work. The system software is learning to recognize different animals based on size and behavior patterns, and prioritize dangers to make decisions on how and when the protective system will respond.

"The goal is for the system to function at the normal rural highway speeds. In cases in which it cannot help the driver entirely avoid the collision, the system will slow down the car sufficiently to help reduce the force of impact and thus of serious injuries," said Eidehall.

A market-ready system will be available in a few years.