Google may have sort of spearheaded the autonomous car revolution thanks to their research and development in the self-driving car market, but they are now far from being the only player in the game. Just like with Google Glass, Google's work with autonomous cars has seemingly fast-tracked the research in this area from other companies, including big name auto manufacturers like Ford, which may actually be looking to separate their autonomous car work into its own business unit. While Google recently got the opportunity to start testing their self-driving vehicles in heavy rain conditions, something which isn't typical for the state of California, Ford is now testing their own self-driving vehicles in a much colder type of inclement weather – the snow.
Ford refers to this research as "Snowtonomy," a term that is fitting of the work considering the snowy conditions for each test drive are done with an autonomous vehicle. Ford states that they're used to the rapidly changing weather conditions which includes snow and ice, which has afforded them the chance to start these types of tests and see how their self-driving vehicles can handle regular driving in the snow, but more importantly how they can also handle evasive maneuvers when the ground is slippery and the car would typically have less grip on the road.
Ford is not only using the snowy weather to test the vehicles but also to understand how the system powering the autonomous driving performs in such conditions. This also serves Ford's purpose of alerting the genreal public to the nature of their tests and that they're working with autonomous vehicles in weather conditions that are more difficult to handle. As the LiDAR sensors atop the cars are not usually capable of performing as well in inclement weather as they are in a more sunny environment, Ford will still have plenty of improvements to make in this area and will have a long road ahead before they reach the point of where they want to be. Part of this research involves expanding their fleet of autonomous vehicles which Ford announced last week during CES, would be expanding from 10 vehicles to 30 vehicles. This will give Ford three times the amount of self-driving cars to initiate these tests and help them to complete their research much faster than before, and eventually start incorporating autonomous features into their regular consumer vehicles.