While the manufacturers of self-driving cars are quick to put forward the claim that being driven by one of these vehicles is safer than having a human behind the wheel, a lot of people remain skeptical, especially when it comes to driving at night.
Most self-driving cars use a combination of three sensors to navigate: radars, lidars, and cameras. The problem with cameras, however, is that they have trouble operating in low-visibility situations, such as when driving in snow, fog, and, of course, the dark. But Ford is showing how lidars - a system that uses lasers to detect and measure distances - enables its autonomous cars to drive safely at night.
In the video, we see Ford testing a prototype self-driving Fusion at the company’s Arizona proving ground. The autonomous system uses a combination of prior maps and lidar to navigate the unlit track with the vehicle’s lights turned off.
[Testing the car] in complete darkness basically took the camera completely out of the equation,” Randy Visintainer, Ford’s director of autonomous vehicle development, told Re/code. “The lidar being the active laser source was able to illuminate the space [in close proximity]. And you can see we could do the localization, object detection and tracking [with just the lidar]. That was the purpose of the test, to show the capability to continue to operate in the absence of the camera.”
There were no vehicles or other moving objects in the test, but the technology, which Ford hopes will eventually be used in a commercial ride-hailing service, is still in the early stages of development.
Ford plans start testing its self-driving systems in 30 more Fusions later this year. The company hopes this will ultimately lead to it developing four vehicles that can drive better than humans - especially at night.