Driverless cars are already proving an impressive technology, but now Ford has taken it a step further by successfully testing an autonomous car in complete darkness.
The car, a Fusion Hybrid, was able to navigate a lap of a closed circuit at night with its headlights off – something the car manufacturer called a demonstration of the technology’s ability to operate “beyond the limits of human drivers”.
The technology involved in carrying out the test is called LiDAR, a set of sensors that create a 3D map of the world around it as well as the road and can work in conjunction with the sensors and cameras currently used in driverless cars. However, unlike the cameras, which rely on light, LiDAR’s sensors do not.
Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, said: “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.”
High-resolution 3D maps, complete with information about the road, including markings and the surface are combined with the LiDAR sensors to tell the car exactly where it is on the road and respond accordingly. Radar data is also used.
Google is also currently testing self-driving cars in California, while several major manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are all known to be using driverless technology in some capacity.
Ford said it plans to triple its own autonomous vehicle fleet to 30 cars this year, testing on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan in the US.