Finnish Company Claims to Have Created a Robot for Driving in the Snow

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【Summary】Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland believe they have cracked the code to autonomous driving in wintery conditions with Martti, the first fully-self-driving car capable of tackling snow-covered roads.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Dec 28, 2017 9:15 AM PT
Finnish Company Claims to Have Created a Robot for Driving in the Snow

Autonomous vehicles may be fitted with all types of high-tech gadgets, including LiDAR, cameras, and sensors, but the machines are expected to have a hard time operating independently in wintery conditions. Snow complicates things by covering up crucial road markings and gives the vehicle's LiDAR and camera systems some more items to focus on. Researchers out of Finland, though, believe they have cracked the code to autonomous driving during winter months. 

Martti Breezes Through Winter

According to an article by Bloomberg, researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have created a vehicle that they believe is the first fully autonomous car that's capable of operating on its own during the harsh and tricky winter months. The research center put out a press release that provided a little more information on the vehicle. 

The autonomous vehicle is based off of a Volkswagen Touareg that's equipped with "cameras, antennas, sensors and laser scanners." Unlike the research center's first autonomous vehicle, Marilyn, Martti has three laser scanners – Marilyn only has two. 

"When in spring 2017 we, the researchers, taught the automated car Marilyn to drive, this autumn it has been teaching us on how to make Martti such that it can get along with its spouse, and follow GPS and positioning information on its route," said Matti Kutila, project manager from VTT's RobotCar Crew. "Martti has been designed for demanding weather conditions and Marilyn shines as the queen of urban areas." While Martii has more hardware than its counterpart, the vehicle shares the majority of the same software. 

The changes the researchers made worked, as Martti was able to drive on its own on snow-covered roads. "It probably also made a new world record in fully automated driving, making 40 km/h (roughly 25 mph) in a snowfall on snow-covered terrain without lane markings," said Kutila. "It could had even more speed, but in test driving it is programmed not to exceed the limit of 40 km/h." 

While 25 mph may not sound impressive, the feat was accomplished on Finnish roads during, what we assume, was heavy snowfall. If the machine can operate on its own under those kind of conditions, an inch or two of snow shouldn't cause it to have a meltdown. 

High-Tech Software For All

As Bloomberg reports, what makes the Martti so good at tackling roads in inclement weather conditions boils down to its hardware. Martti reportedly features items that help the vehicle to function properly even "when turbulent snow degrades 3D-sensor performance," Kutila told Bloomberg in an email. "The trick is to adapt filters," which the outlet reports is another way of referring to the vehicle's algorithm. 

While Martti sounds like it would be extremely useful to consumers that life in states that get a lot of snow, Kutila told the outlet that there are no plans to unleash the machine onto public roads in the near future. The main problem with that, according to the report, is the fact that street maps aren't accurate enough yet. Instead, Kutila believes the company will sell the vehicle's software.

"This is exactly the point," said Kutila. "Cars and vehicles can use this technology to do something which brings skiers from hotel to the slope."

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done to get Martti's software and hardware systems ready for sale, but VTT is one of the first to claim that it has made an autonomous vehicle capable of operating in the snow. EasyMile, a French company, has teamed up with Minnesota's Department of Transportation to test out an autonomous shuttle during the state's winter months. That reveals just how far ahead VVT is with Martti, as the majority of companies and automakers testing autonomous vehicles in the U.S. are doing so in warmer states. 

via: Bloomberg

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