Self-driving Cars Head to Michigan For Winter Testing
There’s something we don’t often hear about when companies discuss the glory of the autonomous car: the lack of functionality of specific hardware duringÂ inclement weather.
Camera systems can be rendered ineffective when covered with ice and snow cover of an inch or more can easilyÂ obscure lane markings, leaving self-driving cars at aÂ seriousÂ disadvantage. LiDAR, whichÂ operatesÂ using light beams, can be severely thrown in fog or whiteout conditions. Even if a blizzard doesn’t knock out the vehicle’s sensor array, its computer will still have to know how to mitigate slippery road surfaces.
Whether you’re human or machine, winter driving is extremely taxing. But technology companies hoping to build a self-driving car eventually have to move into snowy regions to advance testing. Some of the bigger automakers already have. Ford, for example, has begun extensive regional mapping â€” hoping to giveÂ cars handicapped by poor visibility a leg up.
Waymo has also decided it’s time to throw on a parka and winter tires. It’s heading to Michigan to start cold-weather testing next week.Â
While the Google spinoffÂ has undertaken snow trails before, the majority of its testing has been inÂ places like Texas, Arizona, Nevada, or California. However, it now plans to unleash itsÂ self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids on Michigan’sÂ icy public roads en masse.
â€œFor human drivers, the mix of winter conditions affects how well you can see and the way your vehicle handles the road. The same is true for self-driving cars,â€ said Waymo CEO John Krafcik in a recent blog post. â€œOur ultimate goal is for our fully self-driving cars to operate safely and smoothly in all kinds of environments.â€
Waymo already has a home in Michigan. It opened a self-driving technology development center in Novi over a year ago.Â Krafcik says it will be essential in fielding a larger fleet over the winter months.
The plan mimics Ford’s solution by extensively mapping the areas test vehicles will operate in. However, WaymoÂ seems more keen about collecting data on how its hardware performs in adverse conditions. The company has been relatively obsessive with safety and remaining transparent in its actions, soÂ KrafcikÂ assures us that all test vehicles will have a human driver behind the wheel as a precaution.
Governor Rick Snyder expressed his pleasure over the company’s decision to begin winter trials in Michigan via a written statement.
“Waymo clearly shares our concern for and commitment to safety for Michigan residents,”Â Snyder said. “Iâ€™m proud that Waymo chose Michigan to expand its testing as they take their self-driving vehicles into the next phase. Michiganders certainly understand the challenges of driving in the winter and I look forward to seeing how Waymoâ€™s engineers can address that in these next-generation vehicles.”
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October 26, 2017 at 02:53PM
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