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Experiments involving self-driving cars have highlighted sensor and mapping technologies that evaluate what's going on outside the car. This involves the use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, which uses laser pulses) and GPS navigation systems.

When it comes to keeping track of what's happening inside the car, industry players are exploring technology that can monitor the preferences and moods of passengers, making it possible to adjust the car's operation to better suit the occupants' feelings.

Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, a Boston-based startup working in this area, recently told Xconomy, “All of our technologies and our devices are becoming conversational and perceptual—even our car."

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Skepticism about the reliability of autonomous cars is easy to understand when trying to envision an automated vehicle navigating bad weather or hazardous road conditions. Guidance systems that rely on GPS and LiDAR technology (which uses a laser light to measure distance) can help with those concerns. But what about driving in the dark?

Ford Motor Company decided to find out, stripping its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle of headlights and piloting it along abandoned desert byways -- something could easily place a human driver in danger.

Nevertheless, the tests proceeded at the Ford Arizona Proving Ground, proving that a car without cameras (which need at least some light to be effective) could steer without error around winding highways. Ford's LiDAR, working in tandem with the Fusion's virtual driver software, proved up to the task -- so much so, says the company, that it became evident that LiDAR can get the job done by itself on roads without stoplights, though it's always good to have cameras and radar to complete the array of sensors.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016 00:00

Driverless Vehicles and Slippery Slopes

As the movement to deploy driverless cars continues, one slippery subject has surfaced that requires serious attention: How would driverless cars handle snowy or icy road conditions? Doesn't driving in snow require the ability to adjust responses on an intuitive level so as to avoid spinning out or getting in an accident? Could a machine do that better than a human? Could a machine do that at all?

The Ford Motor Company isn't waiting to find out, becoming the first automobile company to test an entirely autonomous vehicle under winter weather conditions. This move, says the company in a press release, "strengthens Ford leadership in autonomous vehicle development, building on recent news of the company’s expansion of its fully autonomous vehicle fleet – now the largest of all automakers."

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