One of the biggest challenges with autonomous vehicles technology is figuring out the cars will “see” under all conditions. On a sunny day, autonomous vehicles can navigate windy roads and avoid obstacles using a combination of radars, cameras, and lidars, which use lasers to measure distances. However, cameras are basically useless at night or during inclement weather. But that doesn’t mean that fully autonomous vehciles aren’t possible, as Ford has now proven by testing an autonomous car in the dark.
A Ford Fusion successfully drove itself around an unlit test track at Ford’s Arizona Proving Ground. Re/code reports that the localization, object detection and tracking was all done without a camera or even headlights to illuminate the track. The car’s software system used a combination of maps and lidar to create situational awareness in the dark. Now that this milestone has been reached, more work will need to be done before the cars are deemed safe enough for night driving outside of a controlled environment. Randy Visintainer, Ford’s director of autonomous vehicle development, told Re/code:
We have a team working on functional safety, which is how to handle different faults. Will the vehicle be able to get over to the side of the road safely? What level of redundant sensors will we want to have on the road to enable that to happen? We’re looking at those scenarios.