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The third generation of Ford’s self-driving test vehicles are now hitting the streets in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Miami and Washington, D.C. in the United States. But one unforeseen challenge to AV technology is the effect of bugs and gunk on the sensors that allow cars to drive themselves.

A splat from a bug can seriously interfere with the ability of sensors to deliver a clear picture of the world. That’s why Ford has been busy developing and testing technology to stop this event from happening.

Its team has worked on enhancing the ‘tiara’. This is the structure that sits on top of all Ford’s self-driving vehicles and holds the collection of cameras, LiDAR and radar that helps the car ‘see’ where it’s going.

Venky Krishnan, Autonomous Vehicles Systems Core Supervisors, Ford Motor Company, explains: “As the car is driving, the tiara funnels air out through different slots near the camera lens. This creates an ‘air curtain’ that actually deflects bugs away from the sensor itself. So anytime bugs are making a bee-line for a camera lens, the air flowing out of the tiara pushes it aside so it doesn’t make contact with the lens.”

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Krishnan adds: “Fully integrated into the tiara, our cleaning system features next generation nozzles next to each camera lens that can spray washer fluid as needed to clean the sensors. Using advanced software algorithms that helps our self-driving vehicles determine when a sensor is dirty, our cleaning system can specifically hone in on dirty camera lenses (whether it’s just one dirty lens or several), efficiently cleaning each one individually without wasting washer fluid on already-clean sensors.”

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He concludes” “Just as we must equip self-driving vehicles with the brains to process what’s happening in their environment, we must also equip them with the tools to deal with that environment — no matter what kind of gunk it decides to throw at them.”

Ford say its team has tested the effectiveness of the system, taking one of its test vehicles and driving it through the Huron-Manistee National Forests in western Michigan to see how it reacted to swarms of bugs. 

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