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It’s summer and it’s a great time for road trips and bugs. Bugs can damage vehicles and obstruct advanced technology needed for autonomous vehicles. Auto Futures talks to industry experts to learn the best techniques for squashing bug problems on present-day vehicles and autonomous cars in the future.

Why You Should Get Those Bugs Off ASAP

When insects splatter, their guts are acid that can eat a way at the clear coat finish. If bugs are left on the paint, the acid can get through the clear coat to the paint. Over time bacteria grows on the bugs which makes it even more damaging to, says Nathan Perrine Executive Director of the Car Care Council.

In Florida where there are swarms of lovebugs and or other places where there are swarming insects such as cicadas or locusts, Perrine recommends that, as part of service maintenance, to check the engine air filter to make sure air is flowing.

“It is very important to use a washing formula that is designed for cars. Dishwashing or laundry soap can damage the surface,” says Perrine. Investing in a car washing specific formulas will help avoid the need for a new paint job.

To avoid bug invasions inside the car, Perrine says that keeping the car clean by vacuuming up food crumbs and debris will help prevent infestations of bugs such as ants.

While driving bugs not only splatter the windshield but can be a dangerous distraction when they are flying inside the car. Perrine explains what to do in case of interior bug dive-bombing, “If there is an insect in the car with you, pull over, open the windows and evacuate as soon as it is safe to do so.”

He further advises before spraying any kind of insecticide in a vehicle to make sure it is safe to use on the various surfaces.

Due to Covid-19 and stay-at-home and lockdowns, it’s really important to take out the car once a week. It will recharge the battery and help prevent flat tires. It is also important to make sure the windshield washer fluid is topped off and to clean the headlights and the windshield before leaving on a trip, advises Perrine.

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Choose the Right Formula for Bug Splatter Matters

There are windshield washer formulas specially designed to clean off bugs—the formulation, however, varies all over the country.

“Always use locally formulated windshield wiper washer fluid. Formulas are different for different bugs and climates across the United States” says John Waraniak, Vice President, Vehicle Technology at Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

He also advises drivers to not make their own window washing fluid and to “leave it up to qualified SEMA professionals who put carefully formulate and test their products,”

To protect his truck Waraniak installed a bug deflector which is another way to help combat bug problems.

Bug guards such as the Westin’s Platinum Bug Shield, create an air draft that causes fewer bugs to hit the windshield and the front of the hood. Westin’s bug shields are easy to install and are made to fit exact vehicle models, says Westin customer support representative Richard.

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New Car Tech and Bugs

Advanced safety features use cameras and other sensors that could be thwarted by gunk and bugs.

Nate McComb owner of a purple Tesla Model 3 reported on Twitter, driving through lovebug territory, that the “Autopilot handled it like they weren’t even there and taking out thousands of them along the way!”

Tesla Model 3 cars have eight cameras that are placed in areas where they are less likely to be affected by bugs. There are three cameras behind the windscreen, a camera in the back, repeater cameras on each side inside the turn signals and cameras in the B-pillars near the top on each side. However, Tesla 3 cameras can be clouded by road salt reports Canadian YouTuber Tesla Canuk.

Another Canadian YouTuber, Tesla Milton suggests that Tesla owners clean their cameras, “It’s important for Tesla owners to keep cameras clean not only for AutoPilot but also for using Sentry Mode.”

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Next-Generation Autonomous Tiara Self-Cleaning

Ford is taking a self-cleaning approach by researching ways to clean bugs and other gunk off sensors in the ‘tiara’ that is seen on the top of Ford autonomous vehicles.

“The tiara houses the collection of cameras, LiDAR and radar that helps the car see’ where it is going,” says Venky Krishnan, Autonomous Vehicle Systems Core Supervisor, Ford Motor Company, “Our third-generation test vehicles have the cleaning system equipped on the ‘tiara,’ The cleaning system on the tiara is a critical feature to ensure the vehicles we launch with self-driving service can clearly see the world around them.”

He says, in the tiara, special nozzles next to each camera lens can spray washer fluid as needed to clean the sensors. Advanced software algorithms help determine when a sensor is dirty and efficiently cleans each one. After a sensor has been sprayed down it is dried by air blown through an air nozzle.

The self-cleaning systems have to work in various environments and clean all kinds of gunk and debris.

“Our cleaning system has been equipped on our third-generation self-driving test vehicles in Detroit, Austin, Pittsburgh, Miami-Dade County and Washington D.C. As a result, they are testing in a variety of urban environments throughout the year, during daytime hours. We are not only dealing with bugs but also dirt, dust, grime and even bird droppings,” says Krishan.

This technology could help clean Ford vehicles in the future.

“We are continuing to research and explore other areas on the vehicle where we can incorporate the cleaning system to create the safest self-driving experience,” says Krishnan.

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Other Sonic Ways to Clean Off Bugs in the Future

Boris Kobrin, PhD, CEO/Founder, Innovasonic Inc. knows all too well how difficult it is to clean off bugs he lived in Florida where had to deal lovebugs. He explains some of the pitfalls of Waymo’s method of cleaning its autonomous sensor dome.

”Waymo uses wipers on the dome and sprinkles water while it rotates,” says Kobrin, “That kind of mechanism doesn’t take off bugs and can cause problems with the navigation.”

Other problems with autonomous sensors could be caused by sap, dirt or mud. To deal with ice or fog there needs to be an air conditioner or heating which will take up a lot of energy especially on an electric car, says Kobrin.

Innovasonics is developing a new system that would not require water, soap or mechanical devices to scrub off the bugs. The company is developing a system that uses ultrasound. He says the method is similar to other ultrasonic cleaners such as ultrasonic jewellery cleaners that use high-frequency sound waves.

“The way it works is the ultrasound detaches the contaminant from the surface and then either gravity or wind removes it if the car is in motion,” says Kobrin.

Prototype Piezowipe

With Innovasonics’ PiezoWipe an invisible and transparent micro-transducer array integrated in glass or film, emits ultrasonic energy.

“In the future, PiezoWipe could be embedded into the glass for different types of engagement,” says Kobrin, “It is safe, scalable and could be used for lenses, sensors, LiDAR, solar arrays or windshields.”

“There has been great interest in how it will be implemented,’ says Kobrin, “We’re going to provide a prototype to be demonstrated by the end of the year.”

PiezoWipe could also wipe away other bugs such as viruses.

“There is an opportunity here for sensors in the case of autonomous driving it can be very effective,” says Kobrin, “It can also be used for disinfection on cell phone screens because it incapacitates viruses and microbes.”

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