Ford's dark secret: night-vision cars that see with no lights

Published: 11 April 2016

► New Lidar sensors see in the dark
► Ford's testing light-free night vision
► How the new tech works 

Ford is developing the next generation of night-vision systems that can see in the dark with no lights whatsoever.

The Blue Oval's been testing a fleet of Ford Fusion Hybrids (aka the American Mondeo), around its Arizona Proving Ground, equipped with the latest Lidar that requires no natural illumination to be able to spot obstacles ahead.

Why is Ford developing night vision? You can't very well drive around at night with no lights on!

True enough. Ford is developing the tech as part of its push towards autonomous self-driving cars. Driverless vehicles currently rely on a battery of different technologies, including GPS geo-location, camera-based data and radar/Lidar sensors, and this new system is designed to improve the quality of that information. 

Lidar is an acronym of LIght Detection And Ranging - it's a hybrid of 'light' and 'radar' - since it illuminates a target with lasers and uses sensors to build a detailed picture of the vehicle's surroundings.

How Lidar works

Ford uses a system that sends out 2.8 million laser pulses a second to scan the road ahead. The idea is that the system will be able to build a 3D picture of traffic even if other sensors are not able to see (for instance, in dusk or mist).

Ford is trebling the size of its autonomous vehicle fleet in 2016 to around 30 cars. For these nocturnal tests, test drivers have worn military-spec night vision goggles to corroborate the data from the Lidar scanners.

'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 fact, Lidar allows autonomous cars to drive just as well in the dark as they do in daytime.'

However, it's still not clear yet what an autonomous car would do in thick fog. Presumably deliver an error page and shut down...

Click here to read about Ford's new anti-dazzle headlamp technology

Spotters at the Ford Arizona Proving Ground

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

Comments