People are giving a rightful amount of guff to the current status of self-driving cars, as many early autonomous vehicles have a hard time in weather that isn't gin-clear. Ford knows its systems aren't yet perfect, but its self-driving Fusion research vehicles are getting better. Now, they're able to navigate in darkness.
Its cars are able to tackle the dark of night thanks to two technologies -- 3D mapping and Lidar. Lidar, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging, uses lasers to measure distances to objects. 3D maps provide additional information about the road, including markings and geography. The Lidar helps the car recognize where on the map it currently is.
Using infrared-enhancing goggles, Ford's engineers are able to watch the car work its magic as it casts infrared laser beams around the vehicle. Right now, the nighttime, lights-off testing is limited to its Arizona proving grounds, as it's quite illegal to operate a vehicle on public roads at night without traditional illumination.
While autonomous night vision could help vehicles continue to march toward a destination if infrastructure or the car's own lighting suddenly goes dark, hurtling forward in pitch black might be a bit unnerving to your average driver or passenger. That said, it could also put a small dent in the light pollution that covers much of the sky in areas with higher population density.