Ford’s self-driving cars use lasers to see in the dark

Pew pew

Ford are one of the car manufacturers leading the way when it comes to self-driving cars. Some of their progress might be attributed to their purpose-built town, Mcity, used for testing their autonomous vehicles. There they can throw every obstacle at the cars including construction works, traffic lights, tunnels, and other vehicles.

The car that Ford tests at Mcity, the Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle, is full of tech that works together to navigate the ever-changing streets. There are cameras to monitor the road and watch for obstacles, radar to detect surroundings, and the car has access to a 3D map of the town. The most advanced technology aboard is LiDAR, the use of lasers to measure distances to surrounding objects. We love anything with lasers.

To push the LiDAR and prove its capability, Ford has been letting the cars drive in complete darkness with no headlights on and no street lights illuminating the roads. Hopefully this isn’t a situation that will arise in the real world but it’s a good test for the LiDAR system and shows that self-driving cars can sometimes be more capable than human drivers.

Image © Ford

The car drove the pitch black desert roads with a human passenger who couldn’t see anything. “Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” said engineer Wayne Williams. “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.” You can see the car driving in darkness here:

The car uses detailed 3D maps of the environment and fires LiDAR to pinpoint its position on the map. LiDAR fires 2.8 million laser pulses every second, constantly bringing in data about the surrounding environment. “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 vehicles. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”

It’s good to know that Ford’s self-driving cars can still drive safely in total darkness. For us mere mortals, most accidents occur as it gets dark. For some this will be further evidence that roads filled with robot drivers could be safer. Ford aren’t resting on their laurels and are going to be tripling their autonomous fleet over the next year. Google, shots fired!


Image © Ford