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Ford equips its autonomous cars with LiDAR sensors for night vision

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Ford demonstrated the capabilities of its new LiDAR sensor on Fusion hybrid autonomous cars. The LiDAR sensor used in this implementation is a fast spinning laser that is used to calculate distances from any feature.

Ford navigated deserted Arizona roads in pitch darkness, to show that autonomous cars can handle situations impossible for humans. The cars could have navigated using just the LiDAR sensor, but the test was carried out to see how a LiDAR sensor fits in with the radar and camera sensors.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that the number of fatal accidents are three times more after sunset. “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.”

The autonomous cars have a complete 3D map of the environment, with the details of the road along with the elevation, topography, gradients, buildings, trees and signs. Data from the radar and the LiDAR are used in tandem to pinpoint the current position of the car in the map.

The demonstration shows that the cars can be driven in dark environments without the use of headlights. The LiDAR sensor sent out 2.8 million laser pulses a second to scan the environment. If you happen to be wearing night vision goggles, and a Ford autonomous vehicle passes by with a LiDAR sensor mounted, you can see the lasers in action forming a grind around the car.