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A car in the Auvergne region of France in October 2018. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images

Most AVs use a combination of lidar, radar and cameras to survey their environment, but these technologies can fall short in even mildly inclement weather, and few AV systems meaningfully incorporate external data on weather and road conditions.

The big picture: Fully automated AVs will need to be able to pull and analyze information from various sensors on and off the vehicle to safely navigate. Despite industry optimism, however, getting this technology up to speed will likely take years.

Details: AVs can struggle to collect accurate data in adverse driving conditions, let alone make use of it.

  • Ice, snow, water, and even dust or fog can obscure camera lenses.
  • They can also cause a vehicle's lidar to interpret anything obscuring the sensor as an obstacle, triggering a sudden brake.
  • Radar works proficiently in poor weather because its can penetrate thick fog, rain and snow. But it doesn’t offer enough detail for navigating busy roads.

Where it stands: Carmakers have begun to develop and test technology to address the challenges posed by weather.

  • Google has fitted windscreen wipers onto vehicles lidar domes to improve detection accuracy, but in particularly adverse weather its cars have to pull over and wait for better conditions.
  • Ford and the University of Michigan recently announced that they developed 3D map technology that augments lidar's capabilities when inclement weather interferes with sensors.
  • Volvo is testing cars in Sweden to try to identify and address sensing challenges associated with low visibility, icy roads and heavy snow.

Connectivity will be key, including data transmitted by other vehicles.

  • Road weather information systems, which measure weather and pavement conditions, also produce highly accurate data that should be made accessible to AVs.

What to watch: The American Meteorological Society and other organizations are stepping in to help facilitate discussion regarding weather data requirements, such as how often it should be transmitted and what level of precision is needed for AVs to operate safely.

Kevin Petty is the chief science officer at Vaisala and a former meteorologist at the National Transportation Safety Board.

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.

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