Ford used the world-renowned Detroit auto show to announce that it is also in the autonomous or self-driving car business. Specifically, it said the Ford self-driving car is being tested in adverse weather conditions especially snow.
For Ford, it’s testing of the self-driving car in snowy conditions comes on the heels of the Latest report by Google on how the Google self-driving car is holding up in wet and rainy weather. Bad weather conditions is apparently the biggest hurdle to jump by companies testing self-driving cars. The thinking is that, lick this problem adequately, the self driving car would be ready for the general public.
Testing the Ford self-driving car in snowy conditions is a no brainer for the company. Michigan, where Ford is based, is well known for its wintry and snowy conditions for several months in the year. It is a case of taking advantage of what you have, Ford would be using the its University of Michigan built test campus ( it is a test environment built like a city to test new models in a simulated cityscape) and the heavy snow that envelops Michigan for several months in a year. Though the city is simulated, the snow is real.
The problem according to Ford, is that the spinning sensors that are situated at the top of autonomous cars ( the LiDAR sensor is a very good example) are practically useless in snowy conditions. Which means any plans to design high-resolution maps of the self-driving car’s surrounding would be a waste of time during the winter seasons. The high resolution maps are used by the car’s on-board processor for safe navigation when the car is in motion especially in a metropolis.
To solve this problem, Ford is going the indirect route:
1.it intends to use the LiDAR technology to detect landmarks that are above ground level and
2. Then, with the help of the high resolution maps of the road that are already stored the the car’s on board computer, proceed to drive safely after using the images to calculate it’s relative position to objects around it. That’s the theory.
But for now there is a little catch. In practice Those high resolution maps and are not readily available always. Solving that issue is why General Motors and Volkswagen both announced recently that they intend to work with Mobileye, one of the major manufacturers of self-driving sensors. The partnership is aimed at providing these high resolution maps and images so that cars like the Ford self-driving car would be able to integrate the data into the car’s CPU.
These could be a real break through for the future of the self-driving car. The Google report on its own test in inclement weather did not include snow because the two towns where the test are done don’t have enough snow for effective testing. The bottom-line is this: it is the aggregation of all tests by different companies that would finally give the world the perfect self-driving car.
So the world awaits Ford self-driving car to come through its snowy ordeal in anticipation. A good test result is surely another important step towards the realization of the driver less car.