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Self-driving car cruises Mountain View on a rainy night

Inclement weather still called a major hurdle for robot cars

George Hodan

Self-driving car YouTube videos seem to becoming the latest Silicon Valley trend. In January, General Motors began uploading dashboard footage of its experimental vehicles in action, and now competitor ups the ante with video of its own test car driving both at night and in the rain.

This qualifies as showing off, since atmospheric falling water was long something of an Achilles Heel for self-driving technology.

Back in 2014, for example, rain during a driverless car competition in South Korea caused vehicles that had worked relatively well the previous day to swerve around the lanes and nearly run straight into a post:

As the Guardian noted last year:

Rain can reduce the range and accuracy of laser-based sensors, obscure the vision of on-board cameras and create confusing reflections and glare. In a bid to improve the performance of driverless technology in soggy conditions, Google has started testing its cars on public roads near Seattle, where regular rain is guaranteed.

So is justifiable in being proud of the performance of its automatic automobile during a dark and stormy night in Mountain View a few weeks ago, as seen in the video below:

Of course, we can always assume that companies are cherrypicking only the best on-road performances to show off. More will be needed to convince the public—and regulators—that such cars can handle heavy rain and snow reliably.

Nevertheless, the video is at least a tangible proof of concept. Mountain View-based boasts that its robotic cars will teach themselves how to recognize and respond to road conditions in real time.

“It’s the difference between a car knowing a stop light is at an intersection because you’ve told it a million times there one is there and a car knowing how to recognize a stoplight at any intersection,” Drive spokesperson Abby Homer told Curbed SF.

These self-driving cars might even talk to pedestrians someday. Wild stuff.