A car that doesn’t need headlights at night to see the road? Yes, it’s the future, according to Ford, thanks to LiDAR technology.
We’ve mentioned LiDAR before – it’s new sensor technology used to make 3D maps which will come in handy for autonomous vehicle development.
Ford has been testing LiDAR on its self-driving Fusion Hybrid research vehicles in the daytime and now it’s using them at night in Project Nightonomy. The research is taking place at the automaker’s testing grounds in Arizona.
The automaker says LiDAR sensors along with 3D mapping works so well, the car can drive without headlights.
Here’s how it all works. 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.
“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” says 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.”
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.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trying to make driving at night safer.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced it would push for automakers to make better headlights for vehicles. It’s part of the agency’s upcoming revisions to the government’s safety ratings system.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also recently came out with its first ever vehicle headlight tests. Its researchers were not at all impressed with the results. They say while all models tested currently meet government standards, most of the cars tested ranked as marginal or poor.
Photo Credit: Ford