Can driver-less cars handle snowy roadways?


Rain, sleet, and snow are challenging enough for human drivers, but if self-driving cars are the future.. will they be prepared to handle winter weather conditions?

There’s been a lot of talk about self-driving cars and their role in the future. But one of the major obstacles facing the technology right now is winter road conditions.

But engineers at Michigan State University are working to solve that problem.

“What you’re seeing here is a live feed of of the lidar sensors,” says MSU Graduate Student, Daniel Kent.

According to Kent, driver-less cars are the future.

“The colored output is from the two up top, and the white dots are the ones lower on the vehicle,” says Kent.

A car that can communicate with other vehicles, the environment, and make real-time decisions based on that data.

“We have some of our cameras up here,” says Kent.

Engineers like Kent are working to make self-driving cars not only a reality, but the main mode of transportation.

“People who can’t drive now whether because of disability, because of age, because of declining vision, those sorts of things, they won’t have to rely on someone else to take them around, they’ll have a vehicle that could do that,” says Assistant Dean for Research at MSU, John Verboncoeur.

Verboncoeur says through the use of sensors, camera, and mapping, researchers collect data, test it, and work to make it easier for cars to “see” during ice or snow while going 70-mph.

“There are big piles of leaves and those leave can accumulate in the street and those leaves can obscure lane markings, so we have many detailed mapping software and databases that tell you where the roadway should be,” says Verboncoeur.

Verboncoeur says that mapping software includes the car’s sensors and vehicle to vehicle communication.

“The cars that come after them could also understand that there’s ice coming up and so they could say, okay for this stretch of roadway there’s known to be ice we need to allow for additional stopping distance so that if there is a reason to stop we have to prepare for that,” says Verboncoeur.

Though there is still a lot of work to be done before fully self-driving cars can operate under the same conditions human drivers can, researchers say Michigan’s weather conditions make it one of the best places for these self-driving cars to be tested.

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