Countless experts and organizations are talking about autonomous driving, although we haven’t seen it in its final form yet. Today, we are still stuck at Level 3 automation, but Level 4 seems to be in reach.
Virtually all players of the autonomous vehicle market are testing their cars on the streets or with simulators. Latter enable companies to simulate any traffic situation imaginable and evaluate the car’s behaviour. However real traffic still holds scenarios that cannot be simulated as seen with the fatal crash of an Uber in Arizona. In this case the misbehaviour was caused by a software bug, but sensors can also fail when they are dirty after a completing a long distance without cleaning.
Pollution as a main Source of Error
Sensors have to be cleaned regularly in order to work properly. If they are covered with dirt, autonomous cars can barely „see“. Now one could think: “No problem, I just let the automatic carwash do the job.“ Unfortunately autonomous vehicles are not allowed to enter carwash facilities as Futurism found out.
The cleaning brushes could dislodge external sensors entirely and strip the car its ability to locate itself, other objects and road users. In addition soap or water leftovers on the car may interfere with the sensors‘ functionality and lead to false interpretations of the environment. It’s also a matter of costs – although Lidar sensors are getting cheaper, they still cost 5-digit sums. Imagine the costs if some autonomous cars got their Lidar swept off the roof now.
Self-Wash your Self-Driving Car
Companies like Waymo and Uber confirmed that they hired personal to clean their fleets manually instead of using automatic carwash. In order to protect sensors, they are treated with mircofiber and special cleaning liquids. Of course this is not a mass-market solution. Just think of future traffic ruled by autonomous vehicles that have to be cleaned by hand. The industry is already working on automatic cleaning units, that start operating as soon as there is dirt or smear detected on a sensor.
About the author:
David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: http://www.autonomes-fahren.de