Ford is working on an autonomous Fusion Hybrid that allows people to drive at night even without any lights.
The test car was driven at Ford’s Arizona Proving Ground at night without headlights and onboard cameras that are supposed to provide it with vision. The vehicle instead had detailed 3D maps and the Lidar system to move around the course. The maps featured road markings, trees, buildings, signs and topography, while the lidar laser pulses helped the car adjust by comparing its location to the details given by the maps. The lidar system sent 2.8 million pulses per second. These alternative navigating items kept it on the road.
“Lidar” is actually an acronym of Light Detection and Ranging, which means that it is a mix of both light and radar. The sensors are mainly used to create a detailed image of the environment. The millions of laser pulses scan the surroundings and can create a 3D picture even if other elements cannot be detected by other sensors. It is still uncertain, however, how the system would respond in very thick fog.
Digital Trends notes that since 2013, Ford has tested prototypes of autonomous Fusion Hybrid cars. In 2016, the company intends to widen its scope by adding 20 cars to the fleet, which will total 30 after. The bigger fleet will allow more frequent tests to be conducted in places like Michigan, California and Arizona.
The recent test involved Ford engineers observing both inside and outside of the Fusion Hybrid with military spec night-vision goggles. Ford engineer Wayne Williams sat at the back during the test and reported that although he could feel the car’s movement, there was nothing visible outside the window.
According to Car Magazine, more tests are expected to be done by Ford in its plan of creating autonomous self-driving cars in the future. At present, driverless vehicles depend on various technologies like GPS geo-location, radar or Lidar sensors, data provided by cameras. The new Lidar system specifically boosts the quality of information provided by these technologies and does not need any natural illumination to distinguish obstacles on the road.
“Thanks to Lidar, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt. In fact, Lidar allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in daytime,” said Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles.
More updates and detail on the Ford Fusion Hybrid night tests are expected soon.