We at DFC spend a lot of time on the road, from visiting clients to dropping in on family, to ferrying our barbeque sauces to market. We’ve seen our share of good, fair, and poor drivers — but what we haven’t seen yet are cars with no drivers at all.
While I’ve been watching developments in autonomous cars keenly, what hasn’t occurred to me is the fact that they’re all being tested in California and other temperate climes have nothing to do with proximity to Silicon Valley. It’s primarily because the weather there is nice — and in rugged wintry Canada, it’s, well… not so much.
But this has led to a bias in the AI used in autonomous cars, where the data set of road conditions in sunny SoCal is perfect — too perfect. This spells danger in the Great White North. As reads an account in Wired, professor Krzysztof Czarnecki, who built his own self-driving car in 2018, and attempted to train it in snowy Waterloo with a data set from more temperate Germany nearly didn’t make it out alive. He quickly figured out why.
“Inclement conditions are challenging for autonomous vehicles for several reasons. Snow and rain can obscure and confuse sensors, hide markings on the road, and make a car perform differently. Beyond this, bad weather represents a difficult test for artificial intelligence algorithms. Programs trained to pick out cars and pedestrians in bright sunshine will struggle to make sense of vehicles topped with piles of snow and people bundled up under layers of clothing.
‘Your AI will be erratic,’ Czarnecki says of the typical self-driving car faced with snow. ‘It’s going to see things that aren’t there and also miss things.’”
Czarnecki is surprised that big industry players aren’t trying to tackle the harsh weather issue, especially considering the autonomous vehicle industry is pretty well-tested in ideal conditions and could use the challenge. I guess capitalism drives (pun intended!) everything: perhaps there’s not enough of an audience in self-sufficient Canada to make the innovation worthwhile? What do you think the reasons are, dear reader? And, would you even trust a driverless car in some of our wackiest weather?