Self-Driving Cars Face Stormy Weather
Google’s self-driving cars have come a long way since their first test-drives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
…literally. They’ve slowly been test driven in a variety of contexts besides their sunny home in Mountain View, California. Their next level training occurred in Austin, Texas, and Google just announced on Wednesday that their autonomous cars’ third round of adventures will be in Kirkland, Washington.
Not that the cars haven’t spent a substantial amount of time on the road; self-driving cars have racked up 1.4 million miles according to Google, and more cars are on the way. Kirkland may even see Google’s latest prototype, a Lexus RX450h that drives itself from point A to point B in luxury.
Located slightly outside of Seattle, Kirkland promises to give the autonomous team a chance to experience different weather conditions as well. The air and roads will likely be wetter for a longer percentage of the time which, coupled with the city’s notoriously winding roads and quick changes in elevation, should force the autonomous car team to sink or swim in very real road conditions that the Google cars must be ready for.
“google ahs not conducted trials on public roads in areas outside California or Texas, where the weather is primarily clear,” reiterated Sam Barker, a Juniper Research analyst. “The decision shows that Google is confident that the systems are able to stand up to adverse weather.”
“The big criticism that Google has been facing on its self-driving trials, despite clocking over 1 million miles, is the fact that most of it has been done in California where the weather is one dimensional throughout the year,” repeated Praveen Chandrasekhar, automotive and transportation research manager at Frost & Sullivan.
Perhaps not just the need for expansion but the pressure of competition has prompted Google’s move. Ford recently announced that it would begin testing its autonomous cars in snow and icy conditions at the Mcity facility at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center near Detroit.
Ford claimed that its autonomous vehicles functioned fine in snowy and icy conditions, but people were quick to point out that Mcity is a fake car testing city made for testing autonomous vehicles. Ford’s vehicles still haven’t seen the light of day in terms of navigating through actual city streets filled with real drivers and real pedestrians.
Barker authored the report “Autonomous Vehicles: Adoption, Regulation & Business Models 2015-2025” and reiterated this point as well:
“[Google isn’t] alone in testing against weather conditions. Ford claimed earlier this year that their autonomous vehicles were able to operate in snow when tested, being able to do so by mapping the area beforehand. However, it is understood that these tests were undertaken in a controlled environment.”
Then there’s the issue of autonomous cars even being made legal.
“The California DMV’s proposed rule of having a driver behind the wheel might make it tough for Google to sustain its testing efforts only in California,” reminded Chandrasekar.