Roadside Tech Could Save Bambi and People

The goal is to get drivers to slow down enough to react.
Don Hammond/Design Pics/Corbis

When cars meet deer, the results can be disastrous.

Unfortunately, most attempts to prevent deer and vehicle crashes -- ultrasonic deterrents, infrared warning systems -- have failed to eliminate the danger. Now a Canadian company believes it has a system that could save lives and money.

Legend met reality recently as Italian researchers discovered a deer with a rare abnormality - a single antler growing from the middle of its head.
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On a 1-mile stretch of a rural highway just across the border in Ontario, Canada, are signs warning of the increased danger of deer on the road. What's different is that alongside the signs are warning lights that are automatically triggered whenever a deer or moose approaches the side of the road. The lights are connected to a radar network that has been programmed to detect large animals and then track their movements, so the flashing lights stay on until the danger has wandered away.

“With a simple deer warning sign, you become complacent,” notes Blake Dickson, a vice president at Rotalec Inc., the company that designed the radar network. Particularly along a regular route, drivers tend to ignore the yellow signs because most of the time there are no animals around, he explains, so “this system warns you that something's happening right now, so it draws the attention of the driver.” The goal is to get drivers to slow down to a speed at which they can avoid the animals.

A previous system that was tested further north to detect moose had difficulty working in poor weather because it used infrared sensors, and it could not continually track the animals. The latest radar design works in rain, fog, and snow, says Dickson, and can follow the movements of deer and moose so that when an animal leaves the vicinity, the lights go off. It can also detect pedestrians, and it can distinguish between cars and other moving objects and deer to prevent false alarms.

Unfortunately, it's not programmed to see smaller animals like dogs and rabbits, so while it may save Bambi from injury, Thumper and friends aren't likely to be so lucky.

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