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How Self-Driving Cars Work in Bad Weather

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Poor weather is one of the biggest challenges autonomous vehicles face. Explore the solution with this guide on how self-driving cars work in bad weather.

Autonomous driving technology continues to make new advancements every year. However, there are still challenges that engineers of self-driving cars face. One of the biggest obstacles is poor weather. While the sensing systems that power autonomous vehicles work great in clear conditions, they start to face problems during inclement conditions like rain, snow, and fog.

What steps are automotive manufacturers taking to overcome these challenges and make autonomous vehicles safer in all conditions? Explore some of the top ideas and solutions with this rundown of how self-driving cars work in bad weather.

Facing Challenging Conditions

Poor weather conditions present two main challenges for self-driving cars: low visibility and blocked sensors. Autonomous vehicles rely on their sensing systems—such as cameras, radar, and lidar—to perceive the world around them. When ice, snow, mud, or other debris blocks these sensors, the car can’t safely detect objects and navigate the surrounding area. Meanwhile, low visibility that occurs from fog, rain, or snow can hinder the sensors’ range and accuracy.

Combining Multiple Sensors

One of the most effective solutions for getting self-driving cars to work in bad weather is to create a comprehensive navigation system that combines multiple forms of sensing technology. Every type of sensor for autonomous vehicles or ADAS systems has its own strengths and limitations.

For example, radar works best in low light and poor weather because it relies on radio waves, which aren’t affected by these adverse conditions. However, its imaging, accuracy, and precision aren’t as advanced as lidar and cameras. Using multiple sensing technologies in tandem creates a system that overcomes the limitations of any one sensor solution to offer more comprehensive, accurate, and dependable navigation.

Improving Sensor Placement and Design

Improved sensor design can also help mitigate the risk of driving in bad weather. For example, strategic placement of sensors behind the car’s windshield protects them from accumulations of snow, mud, or dust. During inclement weather, the car’s windshield wipers keep the sensor clear so it can continue to operate accurately. Other designs, such as equipping sensors with domes and miniature windshield wipers, can also help protect the system and preserve visibility during bad weather conditions.

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