Car Washes May Cause Problems for Self-Driving Cars, Companies Say

Who knew the future could be thwarted so easily?

Avis Budget Group

From ambiguous regulations to the unpredictable chaos of public roads, self-driving cars face a lot of challenges. But one of the toughest of those challenges just might be automated car washes.

Sending a self-driving car through a modern car wash could be a recipe for disaster, according to a recent CNN report. Soap residue or water spots on sensors could "blind" them, and the heavy brushes used in most car washes could dislodge the sensors. Today's prototype autonomous cars have sensors mounted in exposed positions on their exteriors, but future models may contain them within the bodywork to better protect against damage.

But self-driving cars also need to be washed more frequently than regular cars, in order to keep their sensors free of dirt and debris. Avis, which helps maintain Waymo's fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, told CNN that it carefully hand washes the minivans. Other companies testing self-driving cars described similar cleaning processes.

Toyota, Drive.ai, and Uber told CNN that they hand-clean sensors with microfiber cloths and water, glass cleaner, or rubbing alcohol. In snowy and icy conditions, Uber has workers hand apply windshield washer fluid to camera lenses, and then spritz the lenses with a puff of air to remove any residue. General Motors' Cruise Automation division and startup Seeva are developing automated cleaning equipment. But Seeva CEO Diane Lansinger said that, given the number of sensors, manual cleaning will probably remain the norm for now.