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Video: Ford's self-driving car cruises in complete darkness

Posted April 14

Ford recently put its autonomous vehicle to the test in the Arizona desert to see how it performed in complete darkness. Researchers turned off the car’s headlights, leaving it to tackle a curvy test road without using its light-reliant camera. (Deseret Photo)

WITTMANN, Ariz. — Navigating unfamiliar roads in the dark can be tricky, but the cars of the future may be able to do it on their own.

Ford recently put its own autonomous vehicle, a research version of the Fusion Hybrid, to the test in the Arizona desert to see how it performed in complete darkness. Researchers turned off the car’s headlights, leaving it to tackle a curvy test road without using its light-reliant camera.

A video shows the autonomous Fusion acing the route using laser pulses from Ford’s LiDAR technology and high-resolution 3-D maps.

“Thanks to LiDAR, the test cars aren’t reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt,” said Jim McBride, Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles, in a statement. “In fact, LiDAR allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in the light of day.”

In theory, using self-driving cars in low-light situations could improve road safety. According to the National Highway Research Administration, the fatality rate for passengers in a vehicle is three times higher during dark hours than during daytime.

Researchers donned night-vision goggles during the test so they could see the laser grids that LiDAR projects on the ground to pinpoint the vehicle’s location. Ford research scientist and engineer Wayne Williams sat in the driver’s seat to observe from the inside.

“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Ford is continuing to test its Fusion Hybrid in California, Arizona and Michigan.

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