Spinning the Wheels

Winter might be winding down, but testing of the performance of autonomous cars in inclement weather will continue over time. Attaching the concept of autonomy to a car implies that it should be able to react and adapt to all weather conditions. With most driverless car tests happening in sunny California, it begs the question of whether or not they can pull through safely in snow, sleet and serious rain.  

Like most problems, Google is on the hunt for an answer. They’ve taken their prototypes north to Washington to expose their intelligent transportation solutions to a common blunder: rain. The state’s mountainous terrain will also offer the vehicles a chance to experience the challenge of altitude and incline. To acclimate the cars, engineers will have to account for wet surfaces and inclines that might occur simultaneously.

A recent Fortune article detailed a test experience with a Kia Sedona on the snowy roads of Michigan, explaining how the snowfall disrupted the vehicle’s sensors to the point where the driver had to disable the car’s parking assistant feature. Other functionality rendered useless by the inclement weather included the optical cameras used to keep the car on its path in a single lane.

With snowy weather on hold for now, the pressure is on manufacturers to create solutions that will correct driverless cars’ shortcomings, including things like car-to-car communication through wireless signals.

As more automakers venture into aspects of autonomy, the challenge of testing will continue to be a hot button issue — with more diverse test environments with respect to weather, road conditions and topography. Now, if only the autonomous functions included cleaning off the snow.

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