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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.Want the latest news on Tesla in your inbox? Sign up here!While windshield wipers may do the job for most people, Tesla’s patent application notes that the process of scrubbing away grime and letting the glass dry results in “unproductive time,” and that the chemicals in wiper fluid could damage a camera’s electronics. Using a laser to burn off any unwanted muck, the patent argues, would be faster and more likely to keep everything working as intended.Now, the act of filing for a patent doesn’t indicate Tesla is serious about this idea, or anywhere near putting it into production cars. (Tesla spokespeople did not reply to questions about its intentions.) But the concept here is sound. Carnegie Mellon has produced an award-winning robot that
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