Ford Fusion Autonomous Car LIDAR System Can Literally See in the Dark

Lasers let the Fusion see what human eyes cannot.

Ford is hard at work testing autonomous technology in a fleet of self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedan prototypes, and the automaker is pretty proud of just how well the car's sensors perform. If fact, the LIDAR (a laser-range-finding technology) mounted atop the Ford Fusion Hybrid can see perfectly well even in pitch darkness with the car's headlights turned off.

Although Ford self-driving cars will use regular cameras, too, the video below is intended to show just how much data the LIDAR sensor produces. By shooting out millions of laser pulses per second and measuring how long it takes for them to be reflected back to the sensor, the car's computers can build an accurate map of its surroundings.

While that's all well and good when testing late at night in the emptiness of the desert, that capability will play huge dividends for real-world autonomous cars. Ford says the Fusion's system can detect road markings, curves, and obstacles even without streetlights. The Fusion prototypes also use cameras, radar sensors, and highly detailed GPS maps to navigate without driver input.

"Thanks to LIDAR, the test cars aren't reliant on the sun shining, nor cameras detecting painted white lines on the asphalt," Ford technical leader for autonomous vehicles Jim McBride said 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."

Ford is already testing autonomous cars at the MCity test track in southeast Michigan, and has partnered with Stanford and MIT to develop more technology. The automaker is continuing to expand its fleet of self-driving prototypes, with plans to continue testing in Michigan, California, and Arizona.

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