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Self-Driving Cars Run Into Problems With Dark-Colored Cars

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2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Midnight Edition

Think of the stereotypical “successful guy” car. Odds are, if you set aside the trope of the cherry red sports car, what you thought of was long, was low, and was black. Well, if that successful guy took his long, low, black car onto a road full of self-driving cars, when night fell he would be in some serious trouble.

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Not surprisingly, this is because, as night falls, the cameras and sensors that a self-driving car uses to navigate and, say, not crash into very expensive cars on the road next to them, have some trouble finding dark-colored vehicles.

Google/Waymo Self-Driving Car
Photo: Digital Trends

The reason for this is due to the use of LIDAR, which shines lasers swiftly and constantly over the car’s surroundings to create a computer-generated obstacle course, which the car is programmed to move through. However, dark-colored cars are more likely to just absorb that light, which needs to be reflected back to the sensor to be seen.

The solution some see is just all the cars on the road ending up with light colors. However, thanks to advances by PPG Industries Inc., which is the world’s largest producer of vehicle coatings, there may be a solution that would make dark cars perfectly doable, and we all have eggplants to thank for it.

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No, that is not a dinner-based Freudian Slip. It turns out that eggplants, in order to keep cool on hot days, allows light to pass through its outer layer and reflect off an undercoat. In similar fashion, PPG’s solution is a vehicle paint that combines an exterior layer of paint that allows the LIDAR’s near-infrared paint to pass right through, to bounce heartily back off a reflective under-layer.

Of course, this isn’t a complete solution, as LIDAR will still have to deal with the millions of non-eggplantivized dark cars currently cruising around. Instead, it is likely that self-driving cars of the near future will simply have to rely on multiple, overlapping methods of obstacle detection to keep Mr. Successful Guy, and his big, black, luxury car, safe on the road.

News Source: Jalopnik