Innovation

Dark Clouds, Silver Linings and Autonomous Vehicles

Every dark cloud has its silver lining. But when the dark cloud means snow, ice, and other bad weather, what can possibly be the silver lining?

Given enough time, anyone who is decently healthy can climb to the top of Yosemite Falls in California during great weather. In fact, many people do. Few people, though, choose to climb Yosemite Falls in the winter when the weather is bad. With the altitude changes, a rainstorm at the bottom of the falls can quickly turn into a snowstorm at the top.

A number of amateur photographs illustrate the popularity of climbing the falls in the spring, summer and fall. The relative lack of photographs illustrates climbing the same trail in the winter is not popular. Winter, and poor weather conditions, though, can lead to opportunities to take pictures of a rarer composition than most other tourists. Those scenes may include clouds shrouding the surrounding mountains and water from Upper Yosemite Falls turning into snow before it hits the base.

For manufacturers developing autonomous cars, dark clouds are opportunities to develop technology for real-world scenarios, rather than focusing development in areas with wonderful weather.  After all, developers will likely want to sell their vehicles in regions beyond California, the southwest and Florida.

Ford is developing and testing autonomous vehicles in Michigan. While its facility, designed in partnership with the University of Michigan, goes the extra mile in simulating the different types of situations traditional vehicles face, the location itself provides another advantage in the form of dark clouds filled with snow, ice and other nasty weather conditions. These dark clouds provide Ford with the opportunity to develop the technology necessary for autonomous vehicles to operate in less than optimum weather conditions.

Ford’s approach also differs from other autonomous vehicle developers such as Google and Apple, which are testing their vehicles in California and Texas. Both California and Texas share, as a general rule, favorable climate. Snow, while not technically impossible, is a foreign concept on the streets of Mountain View, California. Since snow is rare in California and certainly does not persist for weeks in Texas, companies developing cars in those locales do not have the natural benefit Ford has realized.

Hiking in the winter provides the opportunity to take pictures fair weather tourists miss. Ford is embracing silver linings by using Michigan’s poor winter weather to develop autonomous vehicle technology essential for operation in all climates, not just the wonderful climate of Mountain View, California or Austin, Texas.


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