Yes, as in dead bugs.
Across America, summer finds most of us dealing with what's best described as a genocide of bugs being left spattered across the grille, headlights, and windscreen of our cars. It's unpleasant but it's rarely life endangering. However, for an autonomous vehicle using many small sensors around the car, just one big bug splatter in the wrong place can cause serious problems. And it's an issue Ford is taking seriously with its autonomous Fusion Hybrid testbeds.
In fact, Ford has been taking the problem seriously to the point that the company sat down with zoologist and author of the book, "That Gunk on Your Car," Mark Hostetler, to find out about the various insects that we clean off of our cars. Ford engineers have also created around 50 patents related to self-driving cleaning and structural systems to try and solve the problem.
Cleaning the bugs off the sensors isn't the solution Ford has arrived at though. Instead, the automaker has come up with a way of stopping the bugs reaching the sensors in the first place.
The solution uses what Ford calls the "tiara," which is the section that sits on top of all its self-driving vehicles to hold the collection of cameras, LiDAR and radar sensors. In the tiara, Ford has built-in slots to funnel air out as the car is moving to create an air curtain that deflects bugs away from the sensor. When a bug heads towards the sensor, the air-flow simply deflects the bug away.
So far, Ford has found the method successful but not so successful the occasional bug doesn't get through and splat over the sensor lens. That means Ford still needs its "next-generation" nozzles to squirt cleaning fluid on the sensor, but the tiara then helps by drying it with a jet of well-directed air.