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Ford Tests Autonomous Car in the Dark with No Lights On

Driving with no lights on is a thing of the past now that daytime running lights are an industry standard. For the Ford Motor Company, driving a Fusion in the dark with no lights on is no mistake, but something that has to do with the future of motoring.
LiDAR-enhanced Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle 7 photos
Ford tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor developmentFord tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor developmentFord tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor developmentFord tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor developmentFord tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor developmentFord tests Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles at night, in complete darkness, as part of LiDAR sensor development
Letting a Fusion Hybrid drive itself in pitch black at the Arizona Proving Ground with the lights turned off is the manufacturer’s way of proving that LiDAR is here to stay. LiDAR, a portmanteau of light and radar, is a technology that was first used by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to measure clouds.

The astronauts of the Apollo 15 mission used LiDAR to map the surface of the moon in 1971, so it’s fair to say that measuring distance and mapping areas by illuminating targets with a laser isn’t a new concept.

LiDAR had been used in production cars since 1992 when Mitsubishi introduced a LiDAR-based distance detection system on the Japan-spec Debonair. The system could warn the driver, but couldn’t reign over the loud pedal and the brakes. Ford, a company known for pushing the technological envelope every now and then, wants to push LiDAR further away from the adaptive cruise control technology of today.

“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” explained 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.” The autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid featured in the video below can navigate in the dark by itself thanks to high-resolution 3D maps and the LiDAR system’s ability to pinpoint the car on the map in real time.

“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” a Ford research scientist and engineer describes his experience on board the self-driving sedan. “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.” From the looks of it, the future starts today, not tomorrow.

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