How Ford Autonomous Vehicles See in the Dark

“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness.” This sounds like a nightmare scenario for any driver. Who knows what lurks behind the next dark corner or at the upcoming intersection?

Who knows? LiDAR knows. It was in this total darkness that Ford engineers put LiDAR through its paces, testing their “Project Nightonomy” on a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle at the Ford Arizona Proving Ground. Engineers rode in the vehicle and monitored from outside, tracking the vehicle as it flawlessly steered around winding roads on a pitch-black night.

The unblinking eye

Ford’s LiDAR sensors work with existing virtual driver software to navigate enough desert roads create a system that tackles twisting tracks, even in near-total darkness. The 2.8 million laser pulses sent per second by LiDAR sensors scan and precisely map the surrounding area.

Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, says the resulting 3D, real-time environments contain information on the road, geography, topography and landmarks, rather than relying on “the sun shining or cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt.”

The light at the end of the tunnel

Think of it as night-vision goggles for your autonomous car, partnering with the existing cameras and radar to allow your Ford to function independently on roads without stoplights. “Nightonomous” driving, another Ford development that brings autonomous driving closer to reality and less like a shot in the dark.


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