Ford turns off the headlights, shows self-driving cars can navigate in the dark

Ford plans to triple its self-driving fleet of cars

Ford announced it is using a new light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system that will enable a Fusion Hybrid autonomous sedan to drive in complete darkness.

The new LiDAR sensor further demonstrates an autonomous vehicle's ability to perform beyond the limits of human drivers, Ford said in a statement.

Ford LiDAR autonomous car Ford

A Ford Fusion hybrid sedan is fitted with LiDAR, which allows it to drive itself at night.

In related news, a San Leandro, Calif.-based startup called Scanse has developed a two-dimensional LiDAR system that it said will be vastly cheaper and more accurate than other systems. Unlike other LiDAR systems, that can cost thousands of dollars, Scanse said its system will retail for about $250.

Scanse is running a Kickstarter campaign that has already raised more than $272,000 toward bringing the technology to market.

"For $250, you get a spinning LIDAR sensor with a range of 40 meters," the company stated.

Ford said the LiDAR tests at its Arizona Proving Ground marks "the next step on the company's 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 stated.

The technology is an important addition to other sensors, radar and cameras that autonomous vehicles have because it further reduces the possibility of accidents at night, when vehicle fatality rates are about three times higher than during the day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"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, said in a statement. "In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day."

After more than a decade of autonomous vehicle research, Ford said it is "dedicated to achieving fully autonomous driving capability" that does not require the driver to intervene and take control of the vehicle.

This year, Ford said it will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet to 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans for testing on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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