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Ford patent application cleverly hides lidar in side mirrors

Maybe self-driving cars won't be covered in awkward jumble after all.

Even though Ford filed this application in mid-2017, I'm still surprised nobody else thought of it first. There's a lot of empty space in that mirror housing.

Most self-driving cars we see testing on the road today are covered in all sorts of devices, which are required to enable said autonomy. But a new patent application from Ford might have those cars looking more like the ones we can buy today.

A Ford patent application for an "autonomous vehicle lidar mirror" was recently published online. The application is pretty straightforward -- instead of mounting lidar emitters, one of the key pieces of hardware in many autonomous-vehicle platforms, on the vehicle itself, the emitters are instead hidden in the car's side mirrors.

The mirror assembly in the patent application sports a conductive mirror base and a metalized cover, while the emitter lives inside the mirror, just behind the usual piece of glass. The metal bits are there to help prevent interference from getting in the way of the lidar's operation.

Mounted as they are, the lidar emitters will still be able to "see" the world to the sides and in front of the car. Lidar emitters send out light to map a given area, using the bounced-back light to gauge the distance to and the shape of various objects both near and on the roadway. Not every automaker uses lidar in its AV development (Tesla is a notable objector), but most view it as a mandatory part of an AV's kit.

Us hoi polloi won't have to wait until autonomy becomes ubiquitous to take advantage of lidar, though. Audi has already put the tech into its production 2019 A8 sedan as part of its Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot system. Nestled in the front bumper, the lidar emitter helps the A8 run its hands-off driver aid, which is sadly not included on US-spec A8s. Nevertheless, lidar may end up in your car well before fully fledged autonomy does.