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Ford’s Autonomous Vehicles Can Now Drive at Night

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Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle driving at night

Ford has made a number of significant advances with its Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicles, up to and including being able to test them in the snow. The latest in a long line of risky testing measures saw a self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid hitting the road at the Ford Arizona Proving Ground at night with no headlights on. Even in near-pitch black, Ford’s autonomous car seems to have passed with flying colors.

Ford’s self-driving Fusion Hybrid was able to navigate in the dark due to its reliance on accurate-to-the-millimeter 3D maps and LiDAR pulse technology that helps pinpoint its position. Ford says that its LiDAR sensors fire 2.8 million laser pulses every second in order to scan the environment and synchronize the vehicle’s location with collected data on its surroundings.

“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.”

“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness,” said Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer who was on-hand for the test. “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 has pledged to triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet in 2016, growing in number to 30 Fusion Hybrids across Arizona, California, and Michigan. Ford also broke new ground last year by beginning testing at Mcity, the simulated city test facility located at the University of Michigan.

Check out video of Ford’s nighttime testing below:

Watch: Project Nightonomy: Autonomous Vehicle Testing in the Dark