Ford Motor Company has unveiled its Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle, which can safely navigate at night with no headlights on, using the LiDAR sensor technology.
Ford’s LiDAR which works with the car’s virtual driver software, is robust enough to steer flawlessly around winding roads.
Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, explains that “the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” adding that “LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”
According to Ford, the Ford self-driving cars use high-resolution 3D maps to navigate in the dark, and it has a complete information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and landmarks like signs, buildings and trees.
The vehicle uses LiDAR pulses to pinpoint itself on the map in real time, and that additional data from radar gets fused with that of LiDAR to complete the full sensing capability of the autonomous vehicle.
Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer who was part of the desert test described that “Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness.”
Williams further explains; “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.”
Ford engineers, while sporting night-vision goggles, monitored the fusion from inside and outside the vehicle. Night vision allowed them to see the LiDAR doing its job in the form of a grid of infrared laser beams projected around the vehicle as it drove past. LiDAR sensors shoot out 2.8 million laser pulses a second to precisely scan the surrounding environment.