• Automotive Industry
  • Transportation Efficiencies
  • Mobility Services
  • Automated Vehicles
  • Automated Driving Systems

Cleanliness Is Next to Autonomy

Sam Abuelsamid
Feb 13, 2019

Smart Car

Spring 2018, while driving through Wisconsin on a lovely evening, I encountered swarms of mayflies that caked the front of the vehicle including the headlights, windshield, and sensors for driver assist. While a few thousand small insects are not going to do any permanent damage to metal, glass, and plastic, they and other types of road debris can easily disable an automated vehicle, limiting its use. This problem of envirofencing is being tackled by companies like SEEVA Technology, which coined the term.

For those following the automated driving space, geofencing is likely a familiar term by now. It refers to limiting where a highly automated vehicle (HAV) can operate based on location. Access to high definition maps and understanding the configuration of a city’s roads is but one of many constraints on an HAV’s operational design domain. Environmental conditions that range from salt spray to mud to bug swarms can lead to what Diane Lansinger, CEO and cofounder of SEEVA Technology, has dubbed envirofencing.

Winter Driving

Those of us that live and drive in areas that experience winter weather are no doubt accustomed to the layers of road salt encrusting headlights and sensors within a few minutes. It is not unusual to have current advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) disabled because the sensors cannot see. With automakers rapidly moving to make ADAS features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and forward collision warning standard, it is equally important to ensure that these systems remain functional in all-weather to maximize their benefits.

Legacy suppliers like Clarion have been developing washing systems optimized for sensors for some time. Clarion’s solution pressurizes and aerosolizes the fluid to cut consumption by up to 90%. That will be important for HAVs that may have dozens of external sensors.

A Hot Shower

The genesis of SEEVA Technology came when Lansinger’s father and cofounder, Jere Lansinger, developed a washer fluid heating system designed to improve the effectiveness of the washing system. The retired Chrysler engineer developed a system that uses waste heat from the engine cooling system to warm the washer fluid. This is especially important for removing obstructions like bugs, but also helps with salt and bird droppings at up to 75% less fluid.

SEEVA Technology’s first systems are designed for current generation vehicles with ADAS and the startup has sold several hundred units to truck maker Navistar. Looking to the future, SEEVA Technology has developed an electrical heating system that is better suited to battery-powered vehicles without an engine, which are expected to make up the majority of HAVs in the coming years. The company is not revealing details of its proprietary technology until it gets all patents filed.

The artificial intelligence experts, chip designers, and lidar makers may be getting most of the media’s attention, but it is fundamental engineering efforts like those at SEEVA Technology that will be crucial to the long-term viability of automated driving systems. After all, if you cannot get the bugs and the salt out of the way, there will not be any data collected by the sensors and nothing for algorithms to process. Clear vision is the key to tearing down the envirofence.