Last month, engineers at Google-owned Waymo announced that its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan would test snow, sleet and ice-covered roads in Detroit. Then, Russian tech giant Yandex, the company that controls Uber’s self-driving rideshare program, tested its autonomous Prius on Russia’s snow-coated roads.
The latest autonomous car to brave inclement weather is Martti, a Volkswagen Touareg test model created by Finnish tech company VTT. VTT has also worked with European electronic company Ecsel on DENSE, a project that created sensor technology for cars to drive in rain and foggy conditions.
Martti, tested by the VTT team in northern Finland, is the first self-driving car to drive fully through the snow. The car drove through about 3-inches of snow, while Waymo and Yandex models have only driven on thin sheets of snow. It will be interesting to see if the company can create a model that will brave Finland's harsh winters, which last four to six months and average 1-2-feet of snow.
“We did this in real road [sic] with having on-coming vehicles and without any visible lane markings,” said Matti Kuttila, VTT’s senior project manager.
Martti appears to hit levels 3 and 4 on our automation scale. For the most part, Martti can drive on its own, but it has automated car test permission, which means that a human must always be present for it to start.
See Martti's test run below.
Three supervising engineers, Pasi Pyykönen, Ari Virtanen and Rainer Täppinen were on board for the drive. “They are the real heros [sic] of this trial,” Kuttila said.
The model drove at 25 mph with the help of cameras, antennas, lasers, and sensors. Kuttila said that while the 25 mph was chosen for safety purposes, there is potential to increase the speed in the future.
“This was the first trial in real snowy road [sic] and we wanted to ensure safety of our staff and other road users,” he said. “The potential exists for higher speed and most likely higher speed will be tried early next year.”
Though Martti seems like an exciting innovation, we won’t see it in the U.S. or even the European market anytime soon. Autonomous cars like Martti and its terrain-bound sister, Marilyn, won’t be for sale until 2022-2025. Fortunately, this gives us time to save up, because one of these cars will likely cost $80,000-$150,000, according to Kuttila.