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DTI Automotive

How HERE is keeping reindeer safe with real-time warnings

It’s that time of year again where Rudolph and his reindeer friends pop up on the TV, radio and in town centres around the world, but in Lapland the animals are actually involved in over 4,000 accidents a year.

We’ve been talking to Jaakko Ylinampa, Director at the ELY Centre, about the department’s contribution to the ‘Digital transport infrastructure and connected cars’ area of the Aurora project, which aims to offer driver alerts to dramatically cut the number of accidents, helping our large furry friends to stay safe for Christmas.

Over a third of Finland is dedicated to herding reindeer, with the animals able to roam freely. “They’re quite different to other animals,” Jaakko explains, “and at some point they’ll wander from one location to another for food, taking the same route every year. Unlike elk, for example, which tend to cross the road very quickly, reindeer are more likely to stay in the road.

“They’re not bothered by cars; they’re not bothered by people and they’re very relaxed animals. They move particularly slowly. This makes all the difference; with animals that cross the road quickly there’s no point in having a warning system, as by the time the next car comes along they will be gone.

“If somebody spots a reindeer, it’s likely to be there for 30 minutes or more, so it presents just as big an issue for the next vehicle. Reindeer never tend to travel alone, either. They’re likely to be in the road with their friends. If you’re driving and there’s one in the road, there’s likely to be a lot more - it’s very rare that you’ll only see one reindeer.”

It’s these peculiarities, along with the exceptionally harsh weather conditions in Finland, that lead to reindeer being involved in over 4,000 accidents each year, with up to 1,000 of those in November alone. As a result, the ELY Centre has been working with the Finnish Transport Agency, the Reindeer herder´s association, the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, Paikkatieto Online, HERE and other partners to develop a solution.

Jaakko explains: “We have been promoting this Aurora project for quite a long time together with the Finnish transport agency. In Lapland we have very harsh conditions in winter time so there’s a lot of drifting snow and the road markings are not visible. We have this area for intelligent transport in these extreme conditions and we use that as a sign that if you can operate in these extreme conditions you can operate anywhere else.

“Within this project we are building a system that will help and assist automated vehicles to operate on a public road, and it includes a huge number of opportunities like warning systems, and our reindeer warning system is a part of that.

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“We have traffic signs at the moment - there’s a reindeer warning sign - but the effect of the sign compared to real-time reindeer warnings is huge. People really believe when they receive a warning that it’s worth slowing down and being more aware.

“Drivers who receive these messages have been particularly pleased; 88 per cent have said this system is very good, and 85 per cent have explained that they’ve been more aware when receiving the warning - most reduce speed so there’s much more chance of avoiding the collision.”

So how does it actually work?

“We recruit professional drivers - bus drivers, taxi drivers, ambulance drivers, for example. If a commercial fleet or driver sees reindeer on the road, they press a button. We receive the message, store it in the cloud and then send a similar message to people heading to the same location. They get the warning signal, and based on early research drivers are changing their behaviour - they’re really slowing down and that’s having the biggest impact.

“We’re also aiming to store these messages in our system to provide a history feed, which is very important for predictive warnings during the peak months of August and November. It enables us to have a database of where there have been accidents, so we can inform drivers without even getting warnings. Instead of putting fences or technical equipment for the reindeers, it’s a very simple approach that we hope will bring benefits by changing the drivers’ behaviour.

The system doesn’t just have the potential to help locals either, and Jaakko points out that there are plenty of tourists heading through reindeer country in a bid to reach ski resorts. “While people who live in Finland may be more accustomed to the way that reindeer act, there’s a lot more chance that people from other countries will get caught out.”

With the potential to reduce accidents by thousands, reindeer alerts could make all the difference to the future of navigation in Finland then, and HERE is also getting in on the action, offering reindeer alert messages courtesy of Paikkatieto Online. If it helps to save Rudolph for Christmas, what’s not to like?

To get more information on digital transport infrastructure and connected cars, visit us at CES Central Plaza, Booth #CP-2.

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