Ford takes its autonomous car for a drive in snow

Snow puts computer vision systems to a tough test

Ford is giving its autonomous cars a challenge not yet faced by Google's self-driving car fleet in Silicon Valley: snow.

Seeing where you are going in the snow is challenging for humans but more so for computers, which lack intuition and rely solely on their digital inputs. If the radar and laser imaging sensors can't see lane markings or road signs, how's a car to figure out where it is?

Ford's solution, which it calls "snowtonomy," relies on high-definition maps that can fill in the gaps when road markings can't be seen.

The car takes all the visual cues it can from the laser-imaging LIDAR sensors on the roof and matches that up to the pre-loaded map, to get an accurate fix on its location. If the system is accurate enough, and Ford says it is, the car is able to keep to its lane even when the lane markings are covered in snow or slush.

"This testing will help us take fully autonomous vehicles to the ultimate level," said Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer, at a news conference on Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Ford has been testing this out at Mcity, a fake city built by the University of Michigan for testing autonomous cars. The location near Detroit means there's plenty of opportunity for testing in the snow.

As car makers gain more and more miles of data about autonomous driving, they are looking for new challenges. After all, driving straight and keeping into between lane markings is a relatively easy task in the world of self-driving.

Google, which has covered the most ground in autonomous vehicle testing, doesn't often face hostile weather in Silicon Valley, but a recent break in California's multi-year drought has provided a chance to test out its cars in the rain.

"Our laser sensors are able to detect rain, so we have to teach our cars to see through the raindrops and clouds of exhaust on cold mornings, and continue to properly detect objects," the company said last week.

Ford is throwing an increasing amount of resources behind its self-driving car research. Last week at CES in Las Vegas, the company said it plans to triple the number of cars it has on city streets and test tracks to research autonomous driving technology.

The expansion will see around 30 test vehicles on the streets and test tracks of Michigan, Silicon Valley and in Arizona.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?