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Ford tests LiDAR system for self-driving cars in the dark

Mon 11 Apr 2016

LiDAR Ford

Automaker Ford is developing LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems for use in its autonomous cars, enabling the vehicles to ‘see’ in complete darkness.

The technology involves a combination of cameras and radars working together to detect obstacles on the road. The company explained that traditional sensors often struggle to pick up obtrusive obstacles at night, but LiDAR enables improved reliability in dark conditions.

“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt. In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day,” said Ford autonomous vehicles technical lead, Jim McBride.

Ford’s driverless systems use high-res 3D maps which include detailed information about the road, road markings, the surrounding environment, topography and landmarks. Using the LiDAR functionality, the car can locate itself on the map in real-time, emitting 2.8 million pulses of infrared laser every second to detect its surroundings. This is coupled with radar to increase the sensing capability.

Having tested the new system, Ford research scientist and engineer Wayne Williams said: “Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness. 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.”

Ford noted the urgency of improving self-driving systems for night time application, citing an estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which revealed that road fatality rates are three times higher at night than in the day time.

The car manufacturer is planning to add a further 30 self-driving vehicles to its current fleet for testing in the U.S. states of California, Arizona and Michigan.

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