30 Jan
Driverless Vehicles and Slippery Slopes Driverless Vehicles and Slippery Slopes

Driverless Vehicles and Slippery Slopes

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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."

Since GPS technology is only accurate to within several yards, autonomous vehicles can't rely on it to pilot them along roadways where the pavement markings are obscured or covered by snow. On the other hand, LiDAR technology -- a term that combines "light" and "radar" and describes a process which emits brief bursts of laser light to create a 3D image of a vehicle's surrounding landscape -- can identify a Ford Fusion Hybrid's location to within a centimeter.

Ford's autonomous cars come with 3D maps, which contain information about what's above the road as well as what's on it.

“Maps developed by other companies don’t always work in snow-covered landscapes,” explains engineering professor Ryan Eustice. “The maps we created with Ford contain useful information about the 3D environment around the car, allowing the vehicle to localize even with a blanket of snow covering the ground.”

Ford's LiDAR has a range of about 200 meters.

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Read 2145 times Last modified on Sunday, 24 January 2016 01:41
Jim Lillie

Jim began writing for newspapers and designing for publishing companies at a time when both industries were just beginning to make the switch from manual to digital platforms. Jim lives in Boulder, Colorado with his teenage son.

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