One of the biggest questions surrounding autonomous vehicles is how adverse weather conditions could affect the car’s performance. Will self-driving cars be able to handle the ever-changing conditions in a Canadian snowstorm, for example?
But, according to a newly released video, Ford believes that its self-driving vehicles have the ability to successfully maneuver icy and snowy roads with the precision of a professional driver.
“We’re here in Michigan — there’s a lot of winter here. We’re used to the conditions changing rapidly,” said Greg Stevens, global manager of driver assistance research at Ford. “As humans, we understand that can happen and we know how to deal with it and we need to make sure that our autonomous vehicle can also deal with those situations.”
Self-driving cars rely on cameras and sensors to map the road in front of them in order to operate — of course, this becomes much more difficult when visibility is reduced in a snow storm.
Ford has been testing its autonomous vehicles on the snow-covered roads of Michigan, using Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) sensors to build a computerized view of the car’s surroundings. The car then compares the information to a high-resolution map of the road stored in its on-board computer.
READ MORE: Google’s driverless car looks cool, but could it handle a Canadian winter?
“We feed that [information] to these really powerful computers with algorithms that do a lot of ‘what if’ planning. Then when we have to do something — like say, an evasive maneuver — we can train the vehicle to do that maneuver,” Stevens said.
“We can have the vehicle drive in those situations, especially slippery low grip situations like there are in snow, in a way that expert highly trained drivers would have.”
However, Ford’s current method means the car would have had to have driven the route before in order to have the high-resolution maps in its computer. That means things could get pretty hairy if the self-driving car got stuck in a snowstorm while travelling along a new route.
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