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Driving In The Pitch Black Dark: Ford Undertakes Autonomous Vehicle Testing

Ford has put its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle through its paces at night, in complete darkness, navigating desert roads without headlights, as part of its LiDAR sensor development.

Ford states that the testing at its Arizona proving ground marks the next step in its “journey to delivering fully autonomous vehicles to customers around the globe”.

“It’s an important development, in that it shows that even without cameras, which rely on light, Ford’s LiDAR – working with the car’s virtual driver software – is robust enough to steer flawlessly around winding roads,” Ford states.

“While it’s ideal to have all three modes of sensors – radar, cameras and LiDAR – the latter can function independently on roads without stoplights.”

Navigating in the dark, the Ford cars use high-resolution 3D maps, complete with information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and landmarks like signs, buildings and trees. LiDAR pulses are employed by the vehicle to pinpoint itself on the map in real time.

“Additional data from radar gets fused with that of LiDAR to complete the full sensing capability of the autonomous vehicle,” Ford states.

Ford tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor development – demonstrating the capability to perform beyond the limits of human drivers.

Carrying out the testing, Ford engineers sporting night-vision goggles monitored from inside and outside the vehicle, with night vision allowing monitoring of LiDAR in the form of a grid of infrared laser beams projected around the vehicle as it drove past.

“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, commented.

“In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”

Ford states that this year it will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet, bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans for testing on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.

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