Self-Driving Cars Not Smart Enough for Car Washes

As another giant in the automotive industry climbs onto the self-driving car bandwagon, the bandwagon hits a big bump. Automologist MAC has the deets. 

Just today the Volkswagen Group announced that it too was getting on to the self-drive car-share electrification bandwagon. So, by next year in Germany and some other selected locations, the German auto-manufacturing giant will take the first brave steps to radically altering the way in which car ownership of the future will be.

Basically, VW will be expanding its vehicle-on-demand car-sharing WE platform, firstly across Germany in 2019 and then into North America and other European countries by 2020. The fleet will be zero-emission autonomous cars based around the e-Golf platform, and will eventually extend to scooters for that last mile problem, when it is simply too much to ask your legs to actually perform the function for which they were designed—walking that is.

The idea is to cover everything from the short trip from the station to home, and all the way to a long vacation, all at an affordable price. But if you like your car to be clean and pristine, this may become a bit of a challenge, for it turns out that the one thing that completely stumps autonomous or self-driving cars at the moment is the lowly automatic car wash.

Whilst autonomous cars can navigate through the most tortuous of routes, it turns out that the automatic car wash is just too complex for them. And when you mix a self-driving car and a car wash, they simply do not play well with each other.

Of course, the auto car wash has been around for years and was designed with the same objective in mind as the self-driving car, that is to take the human out of the equation. Mostly the relationship between car and car wash has worked well over the years, but now in the era of cars that can actually think for themselves, it would seem that the short trip through a high-pressure wash has become a bit of a high-pressure problem.

You may think that such a basic operation as washing a vehicle would be no match for the high-tech all singing-and-dancing cars fresh from the assembly line, but it turns out that self-driving cars that rely on a bunch of external sensors are quite literally blinded by the high-pressure wash in the local wash-o-matic.

Soap residue and water smears make all the onboard wizardry useless and inoperable by the time they leave the wash bay and sometimes worse, the heavy-duty cleaning brushes have even knocked off some of the sensors, making it impossible for the car to navigate and of course requiring a trip back to the garage to replace it.

Some of the pioneers of self-driving on-demand vehicles such as Waymo and Uber have admitted that they have to use real people to wash their vehicles and it requires specialised cleaning materials to keep the sensors functioning at the optimum level. Having to employ people to service, in a fairly menial way, a product that is supposed to remove the need for humans all sounds a little ironic to me.

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