The driverless vehicles are being designed to be able to make their way safely along snowy roads.
While self driving cars may be the direction the industry will be taking in the future, winter storms and snowy roads continue to be as much of a threat of auto insurance claims for those cars as the ones driven by people.
Driverless vehicles currently operate best in cities with clearly marked streets and lanes.
Though self driving cars have been performing quite well in their testing phases, they have been developed for well marked city streets until now. That said, for many people around the world, those streets are covered in icy snow for a few months of every year. This has forced developers to have to come up with new technology that will take winter road conditions into account. After all, vehicle owners can’t be expected to use their cars for only a part of the year. Moreover, if they’re hoping to relinquish control of the steering wheel to the car, they’re going to want to do it regardless of the weather.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland teams are working on winter self driving cars tech.
They have a collective goal to make it possible for these autonomous vehicles to take over the job of driving regardless of whether the sun is shining or the snow is blowing. This will mean that the vehicles will need to be able to contend with whiteout conditions in which falling and blowing snow makes it impossible to see beyond a few feet – at best – in front of the car.
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They will need to cope with black ice that makes brakes useless and steering challenging and often unpredictable. They will also need to deal with the loss of visibility of the surface of the road as lanes become track-bare or completely snow covered. In the winter, the entire performance of a vehicle can change as it is often not driving directly on the road surface but may be on slushy, icy, snow packed or shifting snow.
Still, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland released a press release claiming its Martti – a retrofitted Volkswagen Touareg – was made to drive on snow covered roads where lane markings could not be seen. It did so at 25 miles per hour and, according to the developers, it would have been able to go faster. Testing is occurring in the freezing Lapland region of the country.
This may help to overcome the shortfalls of self driving cars that use LIDAR )Light Detection and Ranging) to measure the distance between objects, as nearly all autonomous vehicles do. That tech’s performance drops considerably in winter road conditions, but Martti is bringing hope that driverless cars may be able to continue to perform well even “when turbulent snow degrades 3D-sensor performance,” said Matti Kutila, the project’s manager.