PhotoDrivers are always complaining about potholes, lousy signage, potholes and poor lane markings on the nation's highways. And now they're being joined by self-driving car manufacturers who say their robots are having trouble seeing the lines and reading the signs on American streets.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called it "crazy" and Volvo's North American CEO lost his cool recently when one of his company's autonomous prototypes refused to budge during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Reuters reported. 

"It can't find the lane markings. You need to paint the bloody roads here," Lex Kerssemakers exclaimed to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Automakers are finding it difficult to cope with the patchwork of laws and standards in the U.S., unlike European and Asian nations, where government tends to be more centralized and the same standards are used nationwide for things like traffic signals, signs and lane markings.

Consistently inconsistent

In the U.S., some states use reflectorized paint while others use colored bumps to mark lanes. Some use both. Others seem to have forgotten that lanes are supposed to be marked.

Then there's the little matter of traffic signals. In some states and cities, they are stacked vertically, in others horizontally. Still others use what traffic engineers call "doghouse style," a combination of vertical and horizontal.

There is also the little matter of snow, which tends to pile up on roads and block lane markings. It's unheard of in Silicon Valley, where Google and other technology companies are working on self-driving cars but very common in much of the country. 

What's a robot to do?

Some carmakers and technology companies will want the U.S. to retrofit its roads to suit them, while others say they are finding ways to work around the problem. Mercedes-Benz, for example, says its "drive pilot" system uses 23 different sensors to figure out what's what and can keep a car in the proper lane at speeds up to 84 miles per hour under most conditions.

Some mapmakers, like TomTom, are working to make their maps accurate within centimeters, so they can keep cars on the road even when there are no lines. That's assuming, of course, that the maps are up to date.


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