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  • Tesla has filed a patent for the process of cleaning a vehicle’s glass surfaces using laser beams.
  • The laser cleaning process could clean dirt and other debris blocking the view of a camera used for advanced driver-assistance features.
  • Tesla also says the lasers could be used to clean the surfaces of solar panels.

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk is notoriously skeptical that automakers need laser scanners (also known as lidar sensors) to develop truly self-driving cars. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed,” Musk declared at a Tesla event in April 2019. But a recent patent claim suggests Tesla may have found a use for lasers after all, although they won’t be looking down the road. Tesla has filed a patent for a system that uses lasers to clean glass, including the glass in front of cameras used for advanced driver-assistance systems such as Autopilot.

    According to the patent, such a system could use cameras to detect debris on windshields, side or rear glass, or camera lenses. A laser would then irradiate the debris, burning it off of the windshield. An illustration accompanying the patent filing shows a Tesla Model S with lasers mounted on the hood, fender, and B-pillar to clean forward- and side-facing cameras. A patent doesn’t mean that this technology is guaranteed to reach the road, of course. The technology will first have to prove that it’s reliable, affordable, and an improvement over existing technology. We assume any laser-based system would have more success than windshield-washer fluid at removing bug guts and other stubborn dirt.

    That patent describes pulsing the laser at a calibrated rate or coating the glass with an indium tin oxide coating to ensure that the beam doesn’t pass through the glass and damage materials or components on the other side of the glass. That protection would presumably also benefit any human occupants inside the vehicle as well. Tesla also mentions using the technology to clean debris from the glass and glasslike coatings used on photovoltaic solar panels. Anything that blocks sunlight from reaching a solar panel reduces the amount of power the panel produces.

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