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Argo AI's mud cannon flings dirt at the sensors on a self-driving car. Image: Argo AI

Autonomous vehicle developers are deliberately blinding their cars to perfect various sensor-cleaning strategies.

Why it matters: Like humans, self-driving cars must be able to actually see the world around them to make decisions. But rain, dirt, debris and even insects can obscure their vision, requiring systems that can automatically clean the sensors.

  • Companies have been testing a variety of cleaning methods, from blowing small puffs of air on cameras and lidar sensors to squirting them with liquids and then wiping them with tiny squeegees.

What's happening: To help with the research, engineers at one company, Argo AI, even jerry-rigged a "mud cannon" to splatter its test cars with a pudding-like substance.

  • The goal was to simulate mud splashing from a passing car — without damaging the sensors.
  • During six weeks of trial and error, Argo AI constructed a hood-mounted gizmo from PVC pipe, sprinkler valves and a portable air compressor that could fling a carefully crafted mix of water and scratch-proof dust at the car's sensors.
  • The end result is like a "simple potato gun, with a sprinkler valve."  

What to watch: 3M is developing a replaceable, superhydrophobic film that would act like a waterproof screen protector for lidar systems and other vehicle sensors.

  • 3M scientist Jonah Shaver, who developed the film as a side project, says the company is targeting several industries, including transportation, drones, agriculture and mining.
  • "We really think of it for use in any place you want a machine to see a little better."
3M's protective film enables visibility even in driving rain. Image: 3M

Go deeper

16 mins ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 40 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.