Self-driving cars may have one nearly crippling weakness: automatic car washes

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This wouldn’t be the first time that early adopters got the short end of the stick though.

While Waymo, Uber, and myriad other companies are working on self-driving technology for a future where we can stare at our phones in the car as much as we want, there’s a pretty obvious but nearly crippling weakness for any self-driving car: automatic car washes. As presently constituted, self-driving cars are equipped with numerous sensors, cameras, and other electronic doodads on the outside that need to be able to, you know, see things in order to keep you travelling safely along and not driving off the road and into a tree, swimming pool, etc. It seems that at least initially, an invention that is meant to give us time back that we’d normally spend paying attention to the road will instead take our time in other ways. Namely, hand washing your self-driving car.

The last thing you’d want when cruising around in your brand new self-driving car is for a water spot to ruin the focus or vision of the cameras and sensors that are keeping you safe. Even worse, soap could dry onto the equipment, or car wash brushes, flapping cloth, or any number of other things in the automatic car wash process could inadvertently knock something out of kilter. Keeping things clean is clearly an issue that these companies haven’t talked a whole lot about. Waymo, for example, has tapped Avis to keep their fleet of self-driving minivans free of dirt and debris. CNN chatted with a representative about what goes into their modified branches set for Waymo cleaning detail:

“There are special processes that definitely require a lot more care and focus, and you have to clean [the vans] quite often,” Avis chief innovation officer Arthur Orduña told CNN. “We give them the premium level of service that I don’t think any vehicle globally is getting.”

Companies are looking into ways of keeping the sensors of their vehicles clear, but so far almost all basically boil down to a gentle liquid applied by hand and removed with a soft cloth (also by hand). Cruise, the self driving arm of GM, is attempting to build sensor-cleaning technology into their sensors, though that’s still probably at least a few years out. This wouldn’t be the first time that early adopters got the short end of the stick though, and it undoubtedly won’t be the last.

What do you think? Would you still want a self-driving car if you had to hand wash it constantly? Tell us all about it in the comment section below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: CNN
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