Ford sends its self-driving cars into the dark [video] image

Ford has begun testing its autonomous technologies in complete darkness, as part of the automaker’s efforts to develop self-driving cars.

The Detroit-based automaker said in January that it would begin using a new, lower cost LiDAR sensor made by California-based Velodyne for its autonomous vehicles. The Light Detection And Ranging system is a technology which makes use of light beams to get better, 3D, higher resolution images of surroundings, needed to ensure that self-driving cars become aware of what is around them. Ford has recently started to test the new sensors under the cover of night and sent one of its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles, with no headlights, to drive along lonely desert roads at the company’s Arizona Proving Ground. While it is ideal for a self-independent car to have all three major types of senses – radar, cameras and LiDAR – the latter can work independently on roads without stoplights.

“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 fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.” For the desert test, Ford engineers wore night-vision goggles to monitor 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 the testing team. LiDAR sensors shoot out 2.8 million laser pulses a second to precisely scan the surrounding environment.