Insects, says the company, pose a significant challenge to self-driving vehicles, as the build-up of dead bugs on sensors can seriously interfere with the sensors' ability to deliver reliable data to the vehicles.
"Over the last few years, Ford has been conducting some serious research into making sure our self-driving vehicles can always see the world around them, no matter what may try to get in the way," says Venky Krishnan, Autonomous Vehicle Systems Core Supervisor, Ford Motor Company. "We've sprayed dirt and dust onto our self-driving vehicle sensors. We've showered LiDAR sensors with water to simulate rainfall. We created our own synthetic bird droppings and smeared it on camera lenses."
The company's research included consulting with zoologist Mark Hostetler, author of "That Gunk on Your Car," for additional insight into the various insects that regularly make contact with vehicles, as well as building a makeshift "bug launcher" that allows researchers to shoot insects at vehicle sensors at high speeds. Ultimately, says Krishnan, the research sparked the question, "Wouldn't it be a lot easier if we just kept our self-driving sensors from getting hit with bugs in the first place?"
To do that, say the researchers, they looked at how to take maximum advantage of the structure that houses the cameras, LiDAR, and radar sensors that sits on top of the company's self-driving vehicles. As a result, the researchers redesigned the structure, called the "tiara," to do more than just house cameras.
"It's actually the first line of defense for our sensors," says Krishnan.
As the car is driving, say the researchers, the redesigned tiara funnels air out through different slots near the camera lens, which creates an "air curtain" that actually deflects bugs away from the sensor itself.
"So any time bugs are making a bee-line for a camera lens, the air flowing out of the tiara pushes it aside so it doesn’t make contact with the lens," says