Ford just fixed one of autonomous car tech’s biggest problems

Ford may have just overcome one of autonomous driving technology’s biggest hurdles: the weather. Unlike current systems from Google and Nvidia, Ford’s latest tech is capable of operating in everything from heavy rain to snow, and it could be one of the most important developments for self-driving cars to date. Ford has released also a video showcasing the technology. Taking place in Michigan’s MCity – an environment designed specifically for testing self-driving cars – the video shows a fleet of autonomous Ford Fusion cars driving on their own through adverse weather.


Lidar is one of the most important tools for semi- and fully autonomous systems and is already used by the likes of Google, Nvidia and Tesla. Much like a radar that uses light instead of radio, Lidar works by firing a laser at the car’s surroundings, and using its reflection to built up an accurate picture of the road ahead. Although this method works fine in fair weather, adverse conditions such as snow and rain can often prevent the laser from reaching the road – or the markings on it. The result? The car doesn’t have sufficient information to self-drive.

How does Ford’s system work?

Ford’s system essentially works by cleverly sidestepping the main problems with snow, and using other information to fill in the gaps. Instead of focusing on the road itself, Ford’s new tech focuses the lidar on looking for larger, key landmarks on the roadside, thereby reducing the main problem with the snow. Ford’s system then combines this information with GPS data and extremely detailed maps, meaning the car can identify its exact location and options on the road – without seeing the road itself.

So how important is Ford’s breakthrough? Very. It’s important to remember that, although autonomous technology is welcomed by those interested in such things, the majority of car drivers only want self-driving tech if it’s easy to use, and comes with no danger. Autonomous technology’s difficulty in poor weather represented one of its biggest drawbacks, and if Ford has solved it, we’re a step closer to a self-driving future.

Read next: Driverless cars will learn from their mistakes

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