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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

Biden speaks with Macron for first time since diplomatic crisis

President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, on June 14, 2021. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since a diplomatic row erupted over a scrapped submarine order, per the White House.

Driving the news: Macron said that the French ambassador will return to Washington next week and will resume working with senior U.S. officials.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran "plan B"

Bennett and Biden. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran last week to discuss a possible “plan B” if nuclear talks are not resumed, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time a top-secret U.S.-Israel strategic working group on Iran has convened since the new Israeli government took office in June.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: Jake Sullivan plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE next week

Sullivan. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is planning to travel to the Middle East next week, including a stop in Saudi Arabia. He would be the most senior Biden administration official to visit the kingdom.

Why it matters: Sullivan's first trip to the region since taking office is expected to include stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, sources briefed on the plans tell Axios. All three countries are longtime U.S. partners who have faced some early tensions with Biden.

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