Self-Driving Cars ‘Off-Shoot’ Technology and Kangaroos Can Make an Immediate Impact on Canadian Roads

By Sean Cassidy, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Benchmark Independent Medical Examinations

Toronto, ON (Nov. 17, 2015) – We have been following the on-going testing and evolution of the self-driving car and car technology in general for quite some time and it is interesting to note that Waterloo, ON, already a technology hot-bed, will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow road testing of automated vehicles.

“For Ontario, the benefits of being part of automated vehicle innovation are clear,” said Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca during a speech at the University of Waterloo.

Del Duca announced that the province will allow testing of self-driving cars, as well as related technologies, starting on January 1, 2016. The provincial government is also pledging an additional $500,000 to the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Program. That program pairs academic institutions with businesses to further transportation technology. Brad Duguid, the province’s Minister of Economic Development said that the technology is inevitable and, “we intend to be leaders in this disruptive technology.”

In fact, Volvo just recently released news that it is looking into self-insurance announcing it will accept “full liability” for accidents when one of its cars is driving autonomously. Joining Mercedes and Google in this claim, Volvo’s CTO said, “Everybody is aware of the fact that driverless technology will never be perfect — one day there will be an accident. So the question becomes who is responsible and we think it’s unrealistic to put that responsibility on our customers.”

However, while the research is very promising and the topic of self-driving cars coupled with manufacturer backed self-insurance very interesting, we think that “off-shoots” of the technologies being developed for self-driving vehicles have the potential to make an immediate and dramatic impact on Canadian roads. The reality, particularly in Canada, is that self-driving cars are still a number of years away from becoming commercially viable. In short, as the technology stands now, snow, heavy rain, road debris, 4 way stops, detours, and many other situations all commonly faced on a day-to-day basis by human drivers still presents major challenges for self-driving vehicles. Canada, in particular, is a challenge because the cars are seriously impeded by anything that disrupts visibility, such as snow.

However, in the course of conducting research into these exciting new automotive advances we discovered all the supporting technology currently being developed to make self-driving cars viable that could be utilized on its own to augment human piloted cars. Volvo is now working on system in Australia that could provide much more immediate and tangible benefits here in Canada, once perfected, because not only do we have snow in Canada but we also have an abundance of animals, such as deer, that cause a tremendous number of accidents each year.

State Farm Insurance Company reports that we’re colliding with white-tailed deer at record numbers with approximately 60,000 Canadian drivers hitting a deer each year. The total cost to drivers, taxpayers and insurance companies is about $400,000,000 annually. Moose, elk, and bears, are all included in that total but the number one culprit is the white tailed deer which accounts for approximately 9 out of 10 large animal collisions. Some of the collisions can be quite severe leaving thousands of people injured and approximately 50 fatalities annually.

It turns out that Australia has a very similar problem to Canada except that, as opposed to deer, kangaroos are to blame in the land down under. On average, Australian motorists hit 20,000 kangaroos each year. This results in about 75 million Australian dollars in insurance claims and to help address this situation Volvo is currently working on a kangaroo avoidance system.

Very much like the behaviour of white tailed deer, Volvo Senior Safety Engineer Martin Magnusson stated, “Kangaroos are very unpredictable animals and difficult to avoid, but we are confident we can refine our technology to detect them and avoid collisions on the highway … their behavior is more erratic. This is why it’s important that we test and calibrate our technology on real kangaroos in their natural environment.”

As a result, Volvo has sent a team of experts to Australia to ‘film and study the roadside behavior of kangaroos in their natural habitat.” Analyzing this behavior is the first step in creating a system that can prevent, or at the very least mitigate, kangaroo-on-car incidents. The system will rely on both cameras and radar to pick up kangaroos on the side of the road and automatically apply the brakes. The system is capable of processing 15 images every second and can react to an emergency far quicker than a human. Volvo says it takes 1.2 seconds for an attentive driver to detect danger and then apply the brakes, compared to about 0.05 seconds for the computer system.

“The Volvo Cars City Safety technology is a true state-of-the-art technology, because the brakes can be primed in milliseconds – much faster than a human reacts,” Martin Magnusson said. “We are only at the beginning of what is possible … this type of technology is not designed to take responsibility away from drivers. If the driver is inattentive the car will warn him or her and eventually intervene with hard braking to avoid a potential collision.”

As a result, unlike self-driving cars that are still a number of years away, it is not hard to imagine this technology being extrapolated to other countries such as Canada and the United States (where the deer situation is even worse than in Canada) and making an immediate impact by increasing driver safety and reducing insurance claims in the process. As self-driving technology continues to evolve we believe that immediate benefits will be gained from the research and development by way of “off-shoot” technologies such as this and it will be interesting to see how this technology, ultimately developed for self-driving cars, can make an immediate difference now.

About the Author

Sean has been active in the insurance claims handling space in various capacities since 1997 and was one of the pioneers of Canada’s first online claims management system launched in 1999. Sean has expertise in claims, claims process improvement, vendor programs, claims IT systems, and document management. He enjoys working with insurance companies to tie all of these components together with their various systems and processes in order to arrive at the ideal combination customized to an insurer’s own unique needs. Sean joined Benchmark IME in December of 2013 and is putting his experience, coupled with Benchmark’s advanced technological capabilities, to work to improve the AB claim workflow for insurers in Canada.

Sean can be reached at scassidy@benchmarkime.com.

About Benchmark

Technology-driven, person-centered philosophy, and privately-owned and operated by a Regulated Healthcare Practitioner – we only provide Independent Medical Examinations (IME). Benchmark provides a comprehensive range of IME with national coverage to Property and Casualty Insurers, Group Life and Health Insurers, Government, Employers, and the legal community. Benchmark is CARF accredited and has a management process that is ISO 9001:2008 certified.

Source: Benchmark IME