Blacksburg research to help cars avoid deer related crashes

Published: Jul. 28, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
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Avoiding animals on the roads is nearly impossible. Drivers make knee-jerk reactions when deer jump out in front of them, but what if the car could help detect animals first?

Virginia Tech is working to improve sensors on cars to prevent animal-related crashes. It's very similar to radars and sensors that notice when cars are approaching or if the vehicle is too close to an object.

In this case those sensors are more sensitive to notice animals.

"Looking at deer and how they interact with vehicles in the roadway is very important when you put together a system," said Andy Alden, a senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

During the last two years the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute teamed with Toyota and Michigan Tech to create its own deer detection technology based on research on the back roads of Virginia.

"We are putting people in their own vehicles. We had 48 participants that drove their cars for five months each on the roads in this area," Alden said.

Each car had cameras and collected data of their encounters with deer during the thousands of miles traveled on New River Valley roads.

The car company found deer ventured on roads in early mornings or late evenings and were often alone but give drivers very little time to react.

Animal avoidance technology could help the driver and car notice deer sooner.

"Toyota is very interested in developing systems in their vehicles to warn drivers and potentially even activate automated systems in their vehicle for braking or avoiding animals," Alden said.

He explained that Virginia is one of the top 10 states with the most deer-related crashes. Those wrecks don't often involve hitting the animal but rather a pole or tree.

Car companies like Volvo are already adding similar technology in cars.

The research team in Blacksburg is also working with VDOT to help notify drivers of animals on the roadway.