Automated Cars Are Not Able to Use the Automated Car Wash

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
automated cars are not able to use the automated car wash

We’ve been cautiously optimistic about the progress of autonomous driving. The miraculous technology is there, but implementing it effectively is an arduous task of the highest order. A prime example of this is how easy it is to “blind” a self-driving vehicle’s sensors.

TTAC’s staff has had its share of minor misadventures with semi-autonomous driving aids, be it during encounters with thick fog or heavy snow, but truly self-driving cars have even more sensitive equipment on board — and all of it needs to function properly.

That makes even the simple task of washing a self-driving car far more complicated than one might expect, as anything other than meticulous hand washing a big no-no. Automated car washes could potentially dislodge expensive sensors, scratch them up, or leave behind soap residue or water spots that would affect a camera’s ability to see.

According to CNN, automakers and tech firms have come up with a myriad of solutions to this problem — though a man with a rag and some water appears to be the most popular. Toyota, Aptiv, Drive.AI, May Mobility, and Uber have all said they use rubbing alcohol, water, or glass cleaner to manually wash the sensors, before carefully finishing the job with a microfiber cloth.

Avis, which has been tasked to tidy up Waymo’s autonomous fleet, elaborated on the process further. “There are special processes that definitely require a lot more care and focus, and you have to clean [the vans] quite often,” Avis chief innovation officer Arthur Orduña told CNN in an interview. “We give them the premium level of service that I don’t think any vehicle globally is getting.”

While it’s more than just a little ironic that these automated vehicles require gobs of attention and pampering from human hands just to function correctly, some companies are working on a way around it. General Motors’ Cruise has said it will design and implement sensor-cleaning equipment in production vehicles.

SEEVA Technologies, a small startup that seems to have a better handle on this issue than some established manufacturers, is also developing equipment to help alleviate the problem. It currently has a unit that heats washer fluid for windshields, but hopes to adapt it for sensor cleaning. Still, Seeva CEO Diane Lansinger believes something entirely new is needed to treat the multitude of sensors required for autonomous driving.

“For self-driving technology to scale, we can’t have engineers paid $150,000 a year, running around the vehicles and wiping them down,” she said. “It’s going to be quite awhile before we get away from the manual care.”

That’s a pretty solid assessment. Considering the majority of drivers have to cope with seasonal conditions that leave snow and/or road salt caked onto their vehicles after a few minutes of driving, something will need to be designed to help clean up those trouble areas while on the move. Otherwise, automakers will have spent billions of dollars developing a technology that doesn’t work without obsessive levels of careful maintenance.

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  • OneAlpha OneAlpha on Feb 25, 2018

    Exactly my point! Autonomous cars are great at dealing with routine operations, but are just-this-side-of-useless for emergencies that require creative problem-solving. A vehicle that can't handle unforeseen scenarios might as well have a set of rails under it.

  • Sub-600 Sub-600 on Feb 26, 2018

    Auto-pods are just another example of liberal nanny state knee-jerk reactions. The nanny state seeks the lowest common denominator. People are cooking meth? Harass everyone who wants to buy Sudafed, A psychopath goes on a rampage? Take guns away from responsible citizens. People get hooked on prescription pain killers? Make it harder for people with chronic pain to get them. People (whom the state has already licensed) lack the requisite skill and common sense to operate a motor vehicle correctly? Build auto-pods so nobody can drive. Liberalism: Let’s find a cure. Btw, what do car manufacturers plan to do when the auto-pods arrive? A Mercedes E Class Pod will offer nothing that a Kia Rio Pod will as far as drivability is concerned. You are going to sit like a bump on a log in your pod.

    • Maclifer Maclifer on Feb 27, 2018

      It is stunning how people get licensed but truly don't know how to drive - or don't want to learn. Those are perfect pod people however the perfect pod seems a long way off. If there's even such a thing. But for the rest of us who enjoy driving, love cars and want to keep learning we're pretty much being smacked down with the ignorant. Whatever happened to people wanting to take charge and more responsibility instead of abdicating it to those whose intentions are nebulous at best?

  • Lou_BC I realized it wasn't EV's burning by the absence of the usual suspects.
  • Kwik_Shift A manual bug eye WRX wagon (2001-03) would interest me more.
  • El scotto Ferrari develops a way to put a virtual car in real time traffic? Will it be multiple virtual players in a possible infinite number of real drivers in real time situations?This will be one of the greatest things ever or a niche video game.
  • El scotto It's said that many military regulations are written in blood. Every ship's wheel or aircraft joystick has a human hand on it at all times when a ship or aircraft are under power. Tanks, APC's and other ground vehicles probably operate under the same rules. Even with those regulations accidents still happen. There is no such thing as an unmanned autopilot, ever. Someone has to be on the stick at all times.I do not think MB understands what a sue-happy nation the USA is. The 1st leased MB in a wreck while this Type 3 "Semi-Autonomous" driving, or whatever it is called, will result in an automatic lawsuit. Expect a class action lawsuit after the 1st personal lawsuit is filed. Yes, new MB owners can afford and ever are lawyers.Mercedes Benz; "The best wrecks or nothing!" Oh and has anyone noticed that Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Acura, the gray suit with white shirt and striped tie, automobile companies have stayed away from any autonomous driving nonsense?
  • Merc190 Very streamlined but not distinctive enough for a Mercedes. And besides, the streetcar of the early 20th century seems a far more efficient and effective method of people moving in essentially an autonomous manner. A motor car is meant to be driven with proper attention to what's important in every situation. To design it otherwise is idiotic and contradictory.