Ford Tests LiDAR Autonomous Technology at Night

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Ford continues to test its autonomous technology, and now the automaker has started testing its system at night without the use of headlights at Ford Arizona Proving Ground. This marks the next step for Ford’s LiDAR system.

While utilizing radar, camera, and LiDAR systems in concert is ideal, the latter system is able to work with the vehicle’s virtual driver software to navigate on winding roads without stoplights, something that would be dangerous for a human driver. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the fatality rate during dark hours is three times higher than the daytime rate.

“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” said Jim McBride, technical leader for Ford’s autonomous vehicle program, in a release. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”

For the automaker’s test vehicles to be able to drive in the dark without the aid of headlights, the vehicles use high-resolution 3D maps, which offer information including road markings, geography, topography, buildings, trees, and signs. The LiDAR system can then use a pulse system to pinpoint its location in real time. The radar adds more data to give the vehicle full sensing capabilities.

During the night testing, Ford’s engineers wore night-vision goggles and monitored the vehicle inside and out. The goggles let the engineers see the LiDAR system in action, showing the infrared laser grid that was projected around the vehicle as it drove by. “As I rode in the back seat, I was following the car’s progression in real time using computer monitoring. Sure enough, it stayed precisely on track along those winding roads,” said Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer, in a release.

Ford plans to triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet this year, for a total number of 30 Fusion Hybrid sedans that will test on roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan. This is part of the automaker’s goal of achieving fully autonomous driving capability, which won’t require the driver to intervene at any given point.

Source: Ford