Inside the RooBadge: How DDB and Volkswagen are redefining kangaroo deterrence

By Ruby Derrick | 9 April 2024
David Jackson.

The concept of the RooBadge to help reduce collisions with kangaroos was sparked when the DDB team travelled through Australia with Volkswagen commercial vehicles to film an Amarok advert.

“On this particular shoot, we witnessed kangaroos littered along the road, as I am sure many readers have also, so we started talking with the client between set-ups about whether we could do something about it,” DDB’s Tribal national executive creative director David Jackson told AdNews.

From there, Jackson developed and saw the entire process through, sharing the goal of making roads safer for all Australian drivers while helping to reduce collisions with kangaroos.

Connecting to an in-car app, RooBadge calibrates a vehicle's GPS coordinates with specifically developed kangaroo species distribution data.

The badge itself is a circular disc 17cm in diameter that acts as protective shields, replacing the current Volkswagen roundel/badge. This conveys a unique audio deterrent for the kangaroo species that inhabits the vehicle’s particular location across Australia.

Then, early one morning, Jackson was researching why no one had developed a proven kangaroo deterrent. 

“When DDB's Noah Regan and I started chatting about attaching a speaker device to an Amarok to deter kangaroos, we looked at the front Volkswagen grill badge; that was the lightbulb moment, and the real adventure started.”

The three year process was a huge learning experience, says Jackson, with the team realising that plastic ultrasonic whistles don't work because that can't be detected above the sound of the car. 

“Plus, other solutions' speakers don't produce sounds that deter kangaroos which gave Volkswagen a reason to pursue the idea,” he says. 

This led the team to the research of leading kangaroo behaviouralists Dr Helena Bender and associate professor Graeme Coulson, who had been working on a theory of using "meaningful sounds" to deter kangaroos.

“What we mean by 'meaningful sounds' are sounds from nature found in their environment, like dingo calls and bird calls, but we have also been testing mixing them with artificial sounds," he says.

“To deliver the audio deterrent, we worked with technology partner Nakatomi to determine our hardware, which involves projecting sounds at high frequencies using directional speakers. Vert Design tackled the task of industrial design of the RooBadge."

Along the way, the teams tested the sounds against domesticated kangaroos at golf courses and wild kangaroos with promising results.

The biggest challenge in the process, which he says also has been for the whole industry, was COVID. 

However, he says, this allowed the group to reflect on its research as to how different kangaroo species react to different sounds.

"That’s when we arrived at using GPS to optimise the sound in real-time using machine learning for different kangaroo species. It also opened the idea up to be a global solution as we can update the tech for deer in Europe, North America, and other species,” says Jackson.

The goal of the RooBadge is to be the first scientifically proven vehicular kangaroo deterrent. 

“We are starting trials on moving vehicles to collect more data and learn from real-world environments,” says Jackson.

“But what has been fantastic during this entire process is Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles' desire to find a solution for all drivers. So, we have developed a universal solution that can be attached to your number plate on any vehicle.”

The teams used advancement in-car technology to change the sound deterrent by GPS location.

GPS maps have been available in cars for a long time, however, says Jackson, Carplay and Android Auto are available in most vehicles.

“This allows for rapid development and universal compatibility across car manufacturers. There is currently a lot of species mapping data, but the data can always be better,” he says.

That’s also why DDB and Volkswagen developed a tool to allow animal welfare groups such as WIRES to report collision hotspots by species in real-time, says Jackson.

"Enabling RooBadge to activate automatically in newly reported hotspots."

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