How's a Snowbank Going to Mess With Self-Driving Tech?

With self-driving tech becoming more common, more quickly, will they be able to maneuver around certain obstacles?

One of the episodes in the Netflix/BBC anthology series, Black Mirror, focuses on a post-apocalyptic world where killer military-grade robot dogs are hunting people and basically depleting the human race. One scene shows the all-terrain, heavily armored, creepy-as-hell robot trying to get up a tree to kill someone, but it can't climb; it is not programmed to do that, oddly. So, it begs the question: should we give our self-driving tech all the power or program it to a certain point?


Okay, that opening part was a leap, but a Boston Herald story details that self-driving tech is having a bit of trouble figuring out how to maneuver around snowbanks. Self-driving tech companies are pumping millions upon millions of dollars creating autonomous cars that can deliver pizza, park for us, pick up our kids, yadda yadda yadda. But obstacles like snowbanks, especially in tech-friendly places like Boston, seem to be stopping the cars in their literal tracks by messing up visibility from the car's sensors and cameras.

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Small Steps, Big Trouble

Ryan Chin, CEO of Optimus Ride, located in Boston, has suggested new ways for the snow-heavy city to clear the roads for cars of all kinds, but especially for self-driving tech cars. "The cities that are smart about it will think about it throughout," said Chin. "It is in part our responsibility to engage with the right folks to make sure our systems work but also in part educate them."

Chin points out that small things, like making sure lane markers are repainted regularly, can help autonomous car sensors and cameras pick up the surroundings more easily. Either way, there does need to be some sort of infrastructure updating to accommodate self-driving tech. These cars are going to become more commonplace in the coming years, so roads need to reflect that. When Model T's stormed the scene over 100 years ago, local governments had to put down asphalt and lane markers and lights at some point. It's the same concept.

Snow and construction zones are the biggest bugaboos for self-driving tech cars, according to quarterly reports from Optimus Ride and nuTonomy, the other Boston-area self-driving car company testing it's tech. How will they handle other possible distractions and obstacles like birds, pedestrians, errant rubber balls being bounced down a street?

Read More: Autonomous Cars and Bikes Represent a Real Problem