Ford has begun testing an updated version of its driverless system which is powered by LiDAR and can work in total darkness.
The automaker previously demonstrated its system which uses LiDAR to measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light.
The driverless car’s in-built computer uses the information from four LiDAR scanners and cameras to create a high-resolution 3D map of the area around it.
However, to navigate in the dark, the system could not make use of the cameras and instead relied on pre-loaded high-resolution 3D maps that contain essential information about the road such as road markings, geography, topography and landmarks like signs, buildings and trees.
The vehicle then uses LiDAR pulses and additional data from radar to pinpoint itself on the map in real time.
The system was demonstrated using a Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicle which drove along lonely desert roads with no headlights on.
In the US, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data demonstrates that the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate during dark hours is about three times higher than the daytime rate. Driverless systems have the potential to significantly reduce accidents in comparison to human drivers.
“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, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”
“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” explained Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer.
“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.”
This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle fleet, bringing the number to about 30 cars that will be tested on US roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.