Ford has released a video which shows the Ford Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle navigating on its own with no headlights on. The experiment was conducted at Ford Arizona Proving Ground.

Without the use of cameras, the Fusion relied solely on light detection and ranging sensors (lidar), which work with the vehicle’s virtual driver software. According to Ford, although it’s ideal to have all three sensors – radar, cameras and lidar – working together, the latter can function alone without stoplights.

To allow autonomous navigation in the dark, Ford’s self-driving cars makes use of comprehensive high-res 3D maps. Said maps come with info of the road, road markings, geography, topography, landmarks which include signs, buildings and trees.

Interestingly, the car uses lidar pulses to locate itself on the map in real-time. As seen in the clip, the lidar sensors shoot out 2.8 million infrared laser pulses (green flashes) a second to accurately scan the environment. Meanwhile, additional data from the radar gets fused with the lidar, which therefore enables the autonomous vehicle to have full sensing capabilities of its surroundings.

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

“Inside the car, I could feel it moving, but when I looked out the window, I only saw darkness. 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,” Wayne Williams, a Ford research scientist and engineer recounted the experience.

GALLERY: Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle


GALLERY: Ford Fusion Hybrid at KLIMS 2013