WITTMANN, Ariz. (April 11, 2016) — Recently, under the cover of darkness, a Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle with no headlights on navigated along lonely desert roads — something that would be perilous for a human driver.
Driving in pitch black at Ford's Arizona Proving Ground marks another step in the company's goal to deliver fully autonomous vehicles that can function without driver input. The auto maker called it “an important development, in that it shows that even without cameras, which rely on light,” Ford's LiDAR system — 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.”
According to an online source, LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) is a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light.
The company cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data that the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate during dark hours is about three times higher than the daytime rate.
“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, Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford's 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.”
To navigate in the dark, Ford said its 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.