Scientists have developed the first robotic car that can drive over snow covered roads, paving the way for autonomous vehicles that can safely navigate through slippery stretches. The fully autonomous robot car Martti, developed by researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, also succeeded in making a new speed record of 40 kilometres per hour.
Martti is equipped with cameras, antennas, sensors and laser scanners, just like its counterpart Marilyn. It three laser scanners sensing the environment only in front of the car, whereas its ‘spouse’ Marilyn has two scanners looking forwards and one looking backwards.
“When in spring 2017 we 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 project manager Matti Kutila from VTT’s RobotCar Crew.
“Martti has been designed for demanding weather conditions and Marilyn shines as the queen of urban areas,” said Kutila. On the intelligent road of Muonio, Martti was also given intensive training. “It clearly has a very determined mindset, and after a persistent 24-hour training session, it started functioning,” said Ari Virtanen, who was in charge of building the car and its equipment.
“Earlier, Marilyn required a lot more work, because its control software was created from scratch. Martti uses the same software, which did no longer require more than minor adjustments,” Virtanen said. Martti made its speed record, when it was allowed to pick up speed after having felt its way for a little while.
“It probably also made a new world record in fully automated driving, making 40 kilometres per hour in a snowfall on snow-covered terrain without lane markings,” Kutila said. “It could have had even more speed, but in test driving it is programmed not to exceed the limit of 40 kilometres per hour,” he said.
The next step for VTT’s autonomous cars will be changing the wavelengths of the optical components, increasing the resolution of the radar, and building more intelligence in the software monitoring the capabilities of the sensors. These are intended to enhance the vehicle’s functioning capacity step by step also on slippery road surfaces, where concealed edge of the road or fog may obstruct visibility.