No Lights? No Problem! Ford Fusion Autonomous Research Vehicles Use LiDAR Sensor Technology to See in the Dark
Ford is known for its innovation and high performance vehicles globally. The company has recently launched the world renowned Ford Mustang in the Indian market and is successfully offering the Ford Sync Infotainment enabled vehicles to tech savvy Indian drivers. The American company has now something new to offer. Recently, Ford tested its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle with no headlights on navigated along lonely desert roads, performing a task that would be perilous for a human driver.
The vehicle was tested in pitch black at Ford Arizona to mark the next step in the company’s journey to deliver the fully autonomous vehicles to customers around the globe. As per Ford, it’s an important development for the company and the world, 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. While it’s ideal to have all three modes of sensors – radar, cameras and LiDAR – the latter can function independently on roads without stoplights.
To navigate in the dark, Ford self-driving cars use high-resolution 3D maps – complete with 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. Additional data from radar gets fused with that of LiDAR to complete the full sensing capability of the autonomous vehicle.
For the desert test, Ford engineers, 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.
Ford is working in the field for over decade and is dedicated achieve the fully autonomous driving capability, which, as defined by SAE International Level 4, does not require the driver to intervene and take control of the vehicle. This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet – bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans for testing on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.
This is another step towards cars that can go beyond human driving capabilities. While there remain kinks to be ironed out before self-driving cars become the norm, step by step they seem to be getting closer and it may not be long before night driving, renowned for causing more fatalities than day driving, becomes a matter of sitting back and enjoying the ride.