Volvo safety researchers are in Australia as you read this, analyzing kangaroo behaviour as part of a project to develop an Oz-specific safety system to help prevent crashes between cars and that continent’s prolific marsupials.

Australia’s National Roads & Motorists’ Association (NMRA) says that more than 20,000 ‘roos are struck every year, a figure that’s easy to digest when you learn there are at least as many of the animals down under as there are people: the country’s environment ministry estimates the kangaroo count was at least 34 million in 2011, about 10 million more than the government’s current population estimate.

Beyond potentially killing the kangaroo, an at-speed collision with one of the sizable creatures can seriously injure or kill the occupants of a smaller vehicle. The NMRA says ‘roo strikes cost the Australian insurance industry upwards of AU$75 million every year.

While Volvo says it has done much research into preventing collisions with slower-moving large animals–think moose, reindeer, and cows–common in Nordic nations, “kangaroos are smaller, and their behaviour is more erratic. This is why it’s important that we test and calibrate our technology on real kangaroos in their natural environment.”

The safety-obsessed Swedish automaker is working toward adapting its radar-based pedestrian detection system (geared toward lower-speed city-driving situations) to recognize the size, shape and behaviour of kangaroos, and provide adequate warning at highway speeds to help drivers avoid a crash. Just as current collision avoidance systems do (including Volvo’s City Safety), Volvo’s theoretical kangaroo crash avoidance system would warn the driver of an obstacle, and intervene with autonomous emergency braking if he or she failed to react in time.

Volvo says this latest effort is part of “realising its vision that no one is killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by the year 2020.”

Volvo Cars begins first ever Australian tests for kangaroo safety research

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