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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3 of 31 comments
  • 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?

  • Theflyersfan As a kid, a neighbor had one of these full-sized conversion vans with the TV and wet bar in the back. And it was so cool to go in - as a kid it was, driving it had to be terror at times with blind spots, iffy power and brakes, and the feeling that you're hauling your living room with you! Kids of the 1970s and 1980s had this experience. Afterwards with minivans and then CUV everything, not so much.And I'm crushed that a 1977 van doesn't have some kind of mural on the sides. Coyote howling at the moon, American flag, Confederate flag, bright stripes, something! You can't have a 1970's era van with plain sides! At least a "Don't Laugh. Your daughter's in here" bumper sticker on the back. I always get a Gacy or Bundy vibe with these vans...
  • Jeff S In the EV market Tesla is not a niche player it is the major player. According to the latest data of the California-based vehicle valuation and automotive research company  Kelley Blue Book, Tesla has the lion’s share with 75 percent market share in  the electric vehicle market in the first three months of 2022.Tesla has dominated the electric vehicle market for years in the United States. The electric vehicles manufactured by Tesla accounted for 79 percent of the new electric vehicles registered in the United States in 2020 and 69,95 percent in 2021. The decrease in the market share in 2021 might be explained by backlogs and the global chip shortage, but the company is ramping up its sales and has already increased its market share to 75 percent in the first quarter of the year. According to Kelley Blue Book, the top 10 EVs sold in the US in the first quarter of 2022 are;[list=1][*]Tesla Model Y[/*][*]Tesla Model 3[/*][*]Ford Mustang Mach-E[/*][*]Tesla Model X[/*][*]Hyundai Ioniq 5[/*][*]Kia EV6[/*][*]Tesla Model S[/*][*]Nissan Leaf[/*][*]Kia Niro[/*][*]Audi e-Tron[/*][/list=1]Tesla has delivered 310,048 vehicles in the first quarter of 2022, another first-quarter record. The success of Tesla is proven once again as the company has three electric cars in the top 10 most selling electric vehicles in the United States, while no other manufacturer has even two different models on the list.Tesla leads all others, selling slightly over 936,000 units in 2021. This gave the company a market share of nearly 14%.Mar 30, 2022
  • Jeff S I did not know Plymouth had a full size van prior to the mini vans. I did know about the Plymouth pickups and the Trail Duster.
  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.