Autonomous Snow

Let’s face it: snow falls when, well, snow falls.

Let’s face it: snow falls when, well, snow falls. But it seems like there is a factor that contributes to the high likelihood that snow will fall in the greater Detroit area, and that is the launch of the media events at the North American International Auto Show.

For example, on Saturday January 9, the high temperature was 48 F and the low was 41.

On Sunday, the day that many of the OEMs held evening events, the morning started at 42, then the mercury dropped to 18—and snow dropped from the sky.

The roads were covered with ice, then snow. Difficult to drive in.

F

Let the robot car do the driving. . .

On the evening of the first press day, which was Monday, what happened? More snow. And the high temperature for the day was 19. The minimum was 10. And the wind gusts were as high as 29 mph.

Which is to say that on Tuesday morning, the second full press day, the roads were fairly dicey.

The point of this is not to whine about the weather.

Rather, it is to give credit to Ford, which pretty much used the media days to focus on its connectedness and technological cleverness more than its automobilitiness, which announced that it has started autonomous vehicle tests. . .in the snow.

As Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, explained, “It’s one thing for a car to drive itself in perfect weather. It’s quite another to do so when the car’s sensors can’t see the road because it’s covered with snow.”

For those who drove on I-96 yesterday morning, they can attest to the difficulty of one’s human visual sensors finding the road.

Ford and University of Michigan researchers are running the tests using high-resolution 3D maps that can be generated when the car is driving a route during favorable weather. When the weather is foul and the road surface can’t be seen (e.g., it is covered with snow), then the vehicle’s sensors “look” for various above-ground landmarks that are part of that 3D map to determine where the vehicle is in space.

The work is being conducted at the Mcity test facility in Ann Arbor.

Yes, it snowed in Ann Arbor this week, too.