Night, Rain, Highways: How Argo Drive is Built for Scale

At Argo, we offer autonomous products and services that are flexible for a variety of business needs, so customers of any size can integrate Argo autonomous vehicles to enhance their existing operations. That’s why we designed our flagship product, Argo Drive, with the capabilities to safely navigate a variety of weather and traffic conditions, at any time of day, on city streets, suburban boulevards, and highways. 

Argo Drive is the product at the center of the Argo Autonomy Platform, the suite of technologies that power our autonomous vehicles. It is the software and hardware components that act as our vehicles’ “eyes,” “ears,” and “brains.” Radar, camera, and lidar (including our proprietary, long-range sensor, Argo Lidar) enable Argo Drive to “see” the vehicle’s surroundings in 360 degrees. Software detects other road users like cyclists and pedestrians, rapidly predicts their actions, and directs the steering, braking, and acceleration of the vehicle to plan a safe path. Two onboard computers, or the “brain” of the vehicle, process all this data in real time. 

Argo Drive has been trained from extensive development and testing in more than eight cities across the United States and Germany. This exposes Argo Drive to a wide range of real-world data, topography, climate, traffic patterns, and driving behaviors. With every mile driven, it becomes safer, smarter, and more scalable.  

We operate Argo Drive daily in Miami, Austin, Pittsburgh, Palo Alto, Detroit, Hamburg, and Munich. Earlier this year, we began driverless operations in Miami and Austin, during daytime hours, in areas of the city where we encounter a wide variety of vehicle, pedestrian, bicyclist, and scooter traffic. Argo Drive also powers multiple public-facing autonomous services, including rideshare with Lyft and last-mile grocery delivery with Walmart. Throughout our testing and services in city centers, Argo Drive encounters many complex driving scenarios, including:

  • Variety of road users with following frequencies of total trips: cyclists (90%), pedestrians (99%), pedestrians walking outside of crosswalks (95%)
  • Navigate construction on 70% of total trips
  • This year, across each of our cities we averaged 20+ unprotected right and left  turns per hour. In Miami, we average more than 18,000 unprotected turns per month.

Let’s take a closer look at Argo Drive in action from recent operations at night, in the rain, and on the highway.

 

Night and Day 

While deliveries often occur during typical business hours, rideshare demand can increase during the evening. We designed Argo Drive with overlapping, high performance sensors to operate day and night in order to meet business and customer needs. Check out a recent nighttime trip in South Beach, Miami, where we encountered heavy traffic, scooter users, and many pedestrians on Collins Avenue:

 

An Argo autonomous vehicle travels down Miami Beach’s iconic Collins Avenue at night, encountering multiple vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and a skateboarder.

 

Cameras excel at daytime object classification and color recognition, but this performance becomes more limited at night. This is why Argo Drive uses sensor fusion, combining the strengths of each sensor to create a detailed, three dimensional view in 360 degrees—no matter how dark or light the surroundings. Lidar and radar performance remains the same during night and day, and our high performance, low light-sensitive cameras ensure safe operations at all times of day.

 

Rain or Shine

Building a system that is reliable in various weather patterns is a priority to us and our business customers. Our system is capable of handling light to medium rain, and we’re implementing innovative sensor cleaning solutions that combine advanced artificial intelligence algorithms, air flow curtains, fluid sprays, and pressurized air to keep sensor lenses clean and dry during heavier rain storms. 

Here, Argo Drive demonstrates how it handles heavy rain and splashing water in a recent trip in Miami—where sudden rainfall is incredibly common: 

 

An Argo autonomous vehicle drives through heavy rain and flooding in Miami.

 

Similar to how rain obstructs the windshield when humans are driving, rain can also impact camera and lidar sensors. With our automaker partners, we have developed the autonomous vehicle version of windshield wipers—a robust cleaning mechanism that clears water droplets off the camera lens so the picture of our surroundings remains clear. For road spray from puddles and rain-soaked surfaces, we utilize washer fluid sprays, blasts of air, and moisture-averse lens coatings on our near-field sensors.

 

Dashboard camera footage from an autonomous drive through heavy rain in Miami.

 

The ability to keep sensors clean means we can expand the geographies and environmental conditions in which our self-driving system operates, so we can scale with our business partners to bring the benefits of autonomous vehicles to more cities.

 

Hitting the Highway

With a long range of more than four football fields, Argo Lidar is our breakthrough sensor that  enables operations at highway speeds. Argo Lidar has “gapless” imaging capability to produce a high-resolution, photorealistic view of the world—meaning it can detect a cinderblock on the highway at long range, or spot a small dog’s leash or other difficult-to-see objects in urban areas. The ability to detect objects from long distances earlier and have more time to confirm, predict, and respond smoothly is essential for safe autonomous driving at highway speeds. 

But range is not the only important capability of Argo Lidar. It also has low reflectivity detection to sense black-painted vehicles and other dark objects, giving Argo Drive the competitive edge to operate safely in a variety of conditions, speeds, and environments. 

Watch here as Argo Drive navigates a busy highway in Dearborn.

 

An Argo autonomous vehicle merges onto a highway and smoothly changes lanes in Dearborn, MI.

 

Highway driving expands the potential service area for business partners by linking urban markets with high-demand locations outside the city. For autonomous rideshare, this means offering riders in-demand routes, like airport trips. For delivery partners, this enables connecting warehouses to urban and suburban routes for middle-mile and last-mile delivery.  

These are just some examples of the complex conditions Argo Drive encounters daily. We continue to expand the capabilities of Argo Drive to support our business partners and scale autonomous vehicles in areas where they will have a positive community and societal impact. Argo Drive is compatible with multiple vehicle types and has the flexibility to support rideshare, middle-mile and last-mile go-to-market applications in order to meet a variety of customer needs.