Elon Musk may not want lidar scanners anywhere near his cars, but at least somebody in his employ believes that lasers can help Tesla cars see the world around them. Not by firing photons and measuring how long they take to return, but by blasting away grime that might block the view of the cameras at the core of the electric automaker’s Autopilot system.
A newly published patent application, for which Tesla filed in May, describes the “pulsed laser cleaning of debris” that tends to gather on car windshields and solar panels, both of which Tesla has an interest in keeping Mary Poppins–level spotless. Letting dirt and bird droppings accumulate on a Solar Glass Roof is likely to hobble its energy output. And along with blocking a human driver’s line of sight, a dirty windshield is a problem for the Autopilot cameras that pick out lane lines, and on which Tesla is relying to someday enable “full self-driving.” According to the patent, Tesla is also interested in using a laser system to knock the mess off the camera lenses themselves.