Hey Volvo, What About Us?

Dear Reviewer,

I wonder if I’ve ever met an American driver who has not had a collision with a deer at some point in his life. As the nation’s deer population shows signs of ever increasing, it seems like an inevitable part of owning an automobile involves a crunch-up with 100 pounds of white-tailed confusion. A hundred years ago there were about 500,000 deer in the United States. Now there are at least 20 million.

Is a solution to this daily tragedy possible? Maybe. I take great hope from the Swedes who are working with Australians to solve a similar dilemma. Yes, Volvo is working on specialized technology that can take control of an auto to avoid collisions with Kangaroos. In Australia, a country with less than 25 million people — about 7% of the U.S. population — cars collide with about 20,000 kangaroos a year.

Volvo technicians have been studying slow-moving animals like reindeer and moose and cows and human pedestrians in their native country to develop collision avoidance software. And they have developed a sophisticated detection system built into some of their cars that can detect cyclists and pedestrians as well as other cars and put on the brakes automatically when they’re in the way. But kangaroos and American deer present a different problem because they are large, quick-moving and erratic. Studies with kangaroos are continuing in a nature park in Canberra known for lots of kangaroo-auto mix-ups.

Volvo’s new XC90 models use sophisticated radar and camera technologies to avoid collisions with other autos. The system merges data from cameras and radar to identify a threat and can then react to it more than 20 times faster than a human, activating brakes 0.05 seconds after a potential collision is identified. A human takes more than a second to respond.

Volvo engineers are trying to adapt the technologies to car-animal avoidance. At the very least, they expect to engineer systems that will identify nearby kangaroos and bring the car automatically to a stop if they enter a zone of navigation.

Why is it always the Swedes who worry about such things? Don’t they have deer in Michigan?

Please, will all of you dear readers write a letter to Volvo to come here next, rather than going to India to study more cow-auto collisions or Britain to study sheep-auto collisions or France to check out goat-auto mishaps? Tell them how many people would buy a Volvo if it had deer-detection technology!

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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