FSD & Large Animals

Australia’s National Roads and Motorist’s Association estimated that over 12,000 of its insurance claims from 2018 were from kangaroo and wallaby collisions, accidents which cost upward of $5,000 AUD on average.

Over the past 20 years, car companies have pivoted from the old strategies of structurally reinforcing cars to designing prevention technologies that avoid crashes altogether. Car companies and researchers have spent years trying to create systems to detect or deter the animals. But so far, marsupials have presented a nearly impossible tech challenge, leaving communities to come up with alternative solutions to keep roos away from busy roads.

Magnus Gens, a master’s vehicle engineering student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology partnered with Saab, a Swedish car company, to investigate how its cars could keep drivers safe in wildlife collisions. For his thesis, Gens built a life-sized moose dummy—crafted from 116 bright red rubber disks—to test on Saabs and Volvos. The dummy mimicked lethal moose accidents, which are especially dangerous when the mammal’s body mass rolls directly into (and through) the car’s windshield.

Saab’s participation in the project and continued wildlife-testing protocols initiated its reputation as a moose-proof vehicle manufacturer, while Gens won a long-belated Ig Nobel Prize for his research last year.

Volvo, however, was the first to market with a Large Animal Detection System, which debuted in 2016. It’s unique because it accurately detects and brakes for mammals when a driver doesn’t have time to respond manually. The system is equipped with a camera and radar that track how far away an animal is by using the ground as a reference point. The program can detect moose, elk, horses, and deer. But it can’t figure out kangaroos.

That’s because kangaroos are completely irrational animals, said David Pickett, Volvo Australia’s technical lead. In 2015, Pickett was a part of the Volvo team that tried to develop the world’s first kangaroo detection and avoidance system by a major car manufacturer.

It quickly became clear that ground detection wouldn’t work for animals with such a hoppy disposition. They look entirely different in full flight than when resting, and they’re fast. They jump in unpredictable ways, maneuvering mid-air to confuse and outrun predators.

If changing the car doesn’t work, change the road

Without vehicle-based technology in the works, towns with hotspots for kangaroo collisions have had to find their own ways to mitigate accidents. Australians have used ultrasonic frequencies and bright red lights to deter the kangaroos, but there’s no conclusive evidence that kangaroos interpret these as threats to avoid.

Virtual fencing (as in lights activated by headlights to keep animals away from roads) has been used to deter deer in the United States and parts of Europe for almost 20 years.

I didn’t know about virtual fencing in the USA.

Along roughly half a mile of road, the Council installed thick green fence posts every 82 feet, one on each side of the road. Each post holds a device cryptically named the DD430.

“We were getting five wildlife hits per week,” she said, mostly kangaroos and wallabies. However, in the first eight months since the fences were installed, there were just five wildlife collisions.

Eurobodalla Shire plans to build virtual fencing along more collision hotspots in 2024, but hefty price tags could slow the process.

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The fact that kangaroos jump in unpredictable ways to confuse and outrun predators doesn’t sound irrational to me.

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Exactly! The only thing irrational about that behavior is that it confuses humans, too, who want to see everything in clear-cut and predictable ways.

Pete

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Instead of focusing on deterring the animals, why not deter the humans?

Set up motion detecting devices that alert drivers as to when a large animal may be nearby and advising them to slow down would seem to be a functional solution during such busy stretches as the half-mile referenced. Or better yet, simply require a slower speed at night during that stretch.

Five hits a week and making it a “school zone” hasn’t been tried?

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[quote=“tjscott0, post:1, topic:104209”]
For his thesis, Gens built a life-sized moose dummy
[/quote

Mythbuster episode.

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