Testing how weather can impact the function of self-driving cars

CLEMSON, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) – Self-driving cars are something we have dreamed about for years, and while we’re not quite to the point where we can eat breakfast with two hands, our progress is obvious.

One factor scientists are taking into account when it comes to these cars is the weather, and I took a trip to Clemson University to find out how it impacts cars like this.

Collision avoidance – automatic braking – lane correction assistance – these are all automated actions we’ve seen or heard of in 21st-century cars.

At the Clemson International Center for Automotive Research, they are developing automotive technology of the future that can be used across the globe. The goal of the Deep Orange 12 project was to build an indy 500 self-driving race car.

“The car which we are seeing here is the first of its kind,” Dr. Matthias Schmid, Clemson University research professor, said. “An autonomous race vehicle built on an indyalized chasis. It’s built for the indy autonomous competition in October.”

When building an autonomous car, scientists ask themselves – what can a human driver do and how does the weather impact that? The deep orange project came up with a pretty cool way to virtually simulate this on self-driving cars.

“The campus on which we are sitting right now is represented in the digital world with all the buildings, the streets, the street signs, even the trees,” dr. Schmid explained. “By the flip of a virtual button on the keyboard, we can introduce rain…Ice… Snow… Different lighting conditions…”

Dr. Schmid, co-lead of autonomy for the project, says while it’s all complex, one of the most important things is understanding how weather can impact how the car functions.

“Weather as a part of the environment has a core impact on the functionality of an autonomous vehicle,” he explained. “On a nice summer day on the asphalt, it can get really really hot and really, really warm so we cannot idle the car too long and we have to make sure everything there is obviously cooled.”

And although this project has brought a lot of positive press, one thing is for sure:

“Deep Orange is a student project and it’s really about developing those leaders of the next generation to build the cars of the future,” Executive Research Director David Clayton of Clemson University said.

And just to give you an idea of how complex this vehicle is: it has nearly 2,000 cable connections, several football field lengths of wire running through it, and 10s-of thousands of lines of computer code. It can travel 264 feet per second with a top speed of 180 miles per hour.

Copyright 2021 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

Katherine E. Ackerman

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