Autonomous vehicles are certainly part of our future, but as of now they cannot safely navigate more than a light dusting of snow. This is a very real problem for those of us who live in the Snow Belt. This is an uncomfortable reality for engineers and manufacturers who are putting their faith in technology to handle the extremely complex job of safely driving a vehicle.
Seagulls and snow top the list
According to a recent report in Bloomberg, the two biggest challenges for driver-less technology tested by hundreds of vehicles in Boston are snow and seagulls. The unflappable seagulls of the Eastern Seaboard have been the easier problem to solve – cars stop for the birds and then slowly nudge forward. Any driver in a northern climate knows that navigating slick winter roads takes special care, and the technology of cameras and sensors still cannot accurately read or recognize streets covered by snow and ice.
Ground penetrating radar
The race to solve weather-related road conditions may now hinge on ground penetrating radar. Using the same technology that geologists, archeologists and engineers use, the radar scans 10 feet underground into the substrata and can subsequently determine the location of the car within a couple of centimeters. This also enables the radar to determine what is above ground while traveling at speeds up to 65 miles per hour.
Rollout limited to warm weather cities
Pedestrians and other drivers here in Pennsylvania need not worry yet – the rollout of driver-less technology will begin in dry southern climates like that of Arizona. There is thinking that all the sensors including the underground radar will be integrated and then filtered depending road conditions. The next step to rollout will be a threshold of minimum number of hours a car is driver-less, such as an hour per day or week, before driver-less cars are commercially available.
New issues on the horizon
This will then lead to new legal issues. Technology will malfunction (as it does) or other drivers and pedestrians are at fault in crashes with driver-less cars. Manufacturers and their tech partners will do their best to protect themselves against legal exposure, but the occupant may still be at fault for not disengaging the self-driving mode. Smart personal injury attorneys are already preparing for the day when driver-less cars will be part of a lawsuit.