Autonomous cars are intensely tested by automakers, but there is one element of nature fighting against the trend: snow.
Volvo announced a year ago their plans to test self-driving cars with ordinary drivers behind “the wheel” on Swedish public roads by 2017, collaborating with local legislators and transport authorities to deploy around 100 smart cars around the Gothenburg area. But until that moment, Volvo’s engineers are fighting now with Mother Nature. Their XC90 SUV testing fleet has trouble reading the road ahead because the snow makes it hard for the sensors to function at their fullest capacity.
“It’s really difficult, especially when you have the snow smoke from the car in front,” said Marcus Rothoff, director of Volvo’s autonomous-driving program. “A bit of ice, you can manage. But when it starts building up, you just lose functionality.” For finding a proper solution for this predicament, the technical staff tried different placements for the radars until they found the right spot. Therefore, when the real-world customers are taking the autonomous SUVs on public roads next year, the sensors will be fitted behind the windshield, so wipers can protect them from heavy snow.
While the public opinion believes that the autonomous technology is almost there, there are still many hurdles to pass. That is the reason why companies such as Ford or Google are speeding up their efforts to test their self-driving cars on different environments.