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Industry News: Crummy Weather May Pose Big Issues for Self-Driving Cars


William Maley

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Developing autonomous vehicles in sunny, dry locales like Phoenix, Arizona has proven to be difficult due to numerous variables such as traffic and human behavior. But an upcoming study from Michigan State University reveals that autonomous technologies still have a number of hurdles as testing begins in areas with changing conditions.

Automotive News had the chance to speak with Hayder Radha, an MSU professor of electrical and computer engineering who oversaw the upcoming study. The findings reveal that the algorithms that are used to distill the various bits of information coming from the cameras and radar/lidar sensors have issues when it lightly rains.

"When we run these algorithms, we see very noticeable, tangible degradation in detection. Even low-intensity rain can really create some serious problems, and as you increase the intensity, the performance of what we consider state-of-the-art mechanisms can almost become paralyzed," said Radha.

"Once you throw in a few drops of rain, they get confused. It's like putting eyedrops in your eye and expecting to see right away."

Researchers looked at various parameters in their study, including the size of the raindrops and the effect of wind. Using a scale that ranged from a clear day to a major downpour, the study revealed that algorithms failed to detect as much "as 20 percent of objects when the rain intensity was 10 percent of the worst-case scenario." This increased to 40 percent when the intensity of the rain increased to 30 percent.

Other weather-related issues that were revealed in MSU's study,

  • The high-resolution maps that autonomous systems to determine their location may need to be updated due to the changing seasons.
    • "You can imagine in environments where there are a lot of leaves on trees or on shrubs close to the road, they are an essential part of the map. So summer and winter are completely different. When they fall down in winter, you have nothing to work with. So that tells you that for this technology to be robust, it needs to be developed in different conditions than you see only in Arizona and Silicon Valley," explained Radha.
  • Cold temperatures play havoc with lidar sensors. The study reveals that the amount of "poor-quality or irrelevant returns from lidar sensors" increased as if the temperature was at 10 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

Some of these issues can be addressed by getting more information from radar and lidar as engineers develop various ways to use them to classify objects. But Radha explains the big improvements will come when self-driving tech is tested in other locations such as Michigan and Pittsburgh to name a couple.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription Required)


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I was actually recently just talking about this with somebody. I don't remember if it was here or with a coworker, lol.

It's relatively easy to follow GPS, lines, cars, and even searching for people crossing roads but inclement weather sounds like a whole 'nother ball game. How will they handle snow and heavy rain?? 

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2 hours ago, ccap41 said:

It's relatively easy to follow GPS, lines, cars, and even searching for people crossing roads but inclement weather sounds like a whole 'nother ball game. How will they handle snow and heavy rain?? 

FLIR, or other imaging radar?  Something infrared or other? 

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11 hours ago, ccap41 said:

I was actually recently just talking about this with somebody. I don't remember if it was here or with a coworker, lol.

It's relatively easy to follow GPS, lines, cars, and even searching for people crossing roads but inclement weather sounds like a whole 'nother ball game. How will they handle snow and heavy rain?? 

Hello just think of how messy Sleet is, freezing rain, what ever you want to call it. Weather is another game all together.

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10 hours ago, dfelt said:

Hello just think of how messy Sleet is, freezing rain, what ever you want to call it. Weather is another game all together.

Absolutely! I cannot imagine the kink in the hose this is causing automakers to sort through. 

I actually think sensing animals or humans crossing the road is easier to identify and avoid than the surface of the road or standing water. 

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2 minutes ago, Robert Hall said:

Or random pedestrians.   Maybe need blades or a fin on the front like old locomotives to clear the path. 

Or just collect them up to make Soylent Green! :scratchchin:

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