Reaching full autonomy with self-driving cars requires mastering "snowtonomy."
That's what Ford dubs the challenge of testing its autonomous cars to drive in the snow, and even blizzard-like conditions.
When Tech Times spoke with Greg Stevens, Ford's global manager of autonomous driving, last month, he spoke about the challenges of preparing autonomous cars to drive in the snow.
On Thursday, Ford furthered the conversation, revealing the six ways that its technology allows its Ford Fusion hybrid autonomous research vehicle to drive itself in the snow.
Off the bat, there's Ford's utilization of high-resolution 3D maps, which use Lidar technology to scan the area that the Fusion will later drive in the snow. Within that, there's the ability of Ford's autonomous vehicles to collect and process unlimited data, while mapping their environment.
"The car collects up to 600 gigabytes per hour, which it uses to create a high-resolution 3D map of the landscape," Ford said as part of its Thursday press release. "In the United States, the average subscriber of a cellular data plan uses about 21.6 gigabytes per year, for a 10-year total of 216 gigabytes."
From there, Ford cites its use of "super smart sensors," ones that are "so powerful, they can even identify falling snowflakes and raindrops," and tracking systems far more superior than the average vehicle's GPS navigation, with its system enabling its autonomous vehicles to "precisely locate themselves to within a centimeter."
The final two ways that Ford's technology is allowing its autonomous vehicles to drive in the snow are sensor fusion and being aided by an astrophysics major.
The former part of that has Ford using cameras and radar to monitor the environment surrounding the vehicle before gathering all the data from those sensors in what's called sensor fusion. The latter leans on Wayne Williams, who holds a major in astrophysics and worked on remote sensing technology for the federal government before joining Ford's autonomous team. He was the first person behind the wheel of a Fusion self-driving vehicle during its snow testing.
"Because of the extensive development work, we were confident the car would do exactly what we asked of it," Williams said. "But it wasn't until after the test that the achievement began to sink in."
There are many more tests to come, but the progress is evident and encouraging thus far.