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Ford Tests Its Self-Driving Car In Total Darkness Using LiDAR Tech (fortune.com) 91

An anonymous reader writes: Using a combination of radar, cameras, and light-sensitive radar called LiDAR, one of Ford's self-driving cars has successfully navigated a winding road at night and without headlights. LiDAR works by emitting short pulses of laser light -- 2.8 million laser pulses a second -- so that the vehicle's software can create a real-time, high-definition 3D image of what's around it to determine the best driving path. Ford's self-driving cars come equipped with high-definition 3D maps, which include information about road markings, signs, geography, landmarks, and topography. If a vehicle isn't able to see the ground due to inclement conditions, it will detect above-ground landmarks to locate itself on the map. Ford's self-driving cars equipped with the LiDAR radar system are particularly noteworthy because they can operate without the usual cameras that depend on sunshine and street lamps.
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Ford Tests Its Self-Driving Car In Total Darkness Using LiDAR Tech

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  • Er... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @04:16PM (#51887297)

    So one of the problems with modern depth sensors is handling sunlight. Blackbody radiation can cause all kinds of noise in the signal that is bounced back at the camera from a laser. This makes it harder, not easier, for a lot of depth perception tech to work in good lighting conditions.

    Driving at night should, for the most part, be easier for many systems than driving during the day.

    • Re:Er... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Howitzer86 ( 964585 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @04:27PM (#51887371)

      Even during the day it can't be that much of a problem. FARO and other such LiDAR scanners work fine outside. I always figured these self driving cars were using the same sort of lasers (near-infrared).

      What's impressive is the fact that Ford knows the average buyer would think this is impressive. I mean... it's a car driving in total darkness. Revert to your kid self for a minute and pretend you don't know how any of this works...

      "Hey that's pretty cool. I bet Kitt could do that. Now I can pretend to be Michael Knight!"

      • by maeka ( 518272 )

        Even during the day it can't be that much of a problem. FARO and other such LiDAR scanners work fine outside. I always figured these self driving cars were using the same sort of lasers (near-infrared).

        You apparently don't process much LiDAR data yourself of you'd have noticed the high volume of false returns off not just the sun, but also reflections of it. Yes, even on FARO products.

        • by m76 ( 3679827 )

          Even during the day it can't be that much of a problem. FARO and other such LiDAR scanners work fine outside. I always figured these self driving cars were using the same sort of lasers (near-infrared).

          You apparently don't process much LiDAR data yourself of you'd have noticed the high volume of false returns off not just the sun, but also reflections of it. Yes, even on FARO products.

          False returns are not really a concern anymore with high quality lidar (FARO is lower middle class at best) Even years ago it was only a slight problem in very very bright midday conditions. But firmware updates since then eradicated almost all unwanted noise from the point cloud. And what little remains can be filtered out with an isolated points filter.

          Of course the scanners I use cost more than 10 cars, so yeah. Not really feasible as a product yet.

    • Actually LiDAR has an issue with black objects, because it absorbs the beam and does not give a return value.

      I am guessing the have enough sensors and enough programming to account for this, that and there are very few objects which are black enough to absorb all of the light from a LiDAR sensor. But I do wonder if this was a part of the test course.

      • It would have to be pretty damn black not to give a reading. God knows the lidar speed guns around here have no problem getting black cars. Sure there are number plates and lights to aim at but I think the absorption rate will be far too low to cause an issue.

        Not to mention the road tends to be black.

        • by tom17 ( 659054 )

          What about Disaster Area's ship?

        • Actually if you wash a newer black car, LiDAR tends to have an issue with it at that point in time. Anything that is true black after a rain storm will cause issues for this.

    • Driving at night should, for the most part, be easier for many systems than driving during the day.

      Depends on the technology used.

      The technology compete (or more often in practice: supplementing) with visible-light camera and image recognition.
      Either using simple perspective recognition in case of single cams (like on Tesla, etc.) or using stereo correlation with a pair of cams (like recent Mercedes, etc.)
      Such cameras work better with good lighting conditions, in complete dark they won't work.

      Also, don't forget the main technology "competing" with such tools: the human driver.
      We human see badly in darkne

      • If the car uses technology that can see better in darkness it can react to things that the human driver might have missed.

        It seems like one good use of this technology would be to integrate it with some sort of HUD overlay on the windshield so that a driver can see things in the dark. I would love to have a car that put red outlines around things like deer in the road or even the lines on the road. All the self driving cars are using enhanced features to make them safer than human drivers but many of these enhanced features like super accurate mapping of the roads and seeing things in the dark could also be used to make huma

        • It seems like one good use of this technology would be to integrate it with some sort of HUD overlay on the windshield so that a driver can see things in the dark. I would love to have a car that put red outlines around things like deer in the road or even the lines on the road.

          Early prototype and concept cars using Forward Collision Warning Systems mused with the idea of red outlines/augmented reality.
          (There was even some such prototype mentioned here on /. but I can manage to find the proper link).
          With the idea, e.g.: to have a screen on the dashboard displaying a "night view" of the road ahead with silhouettes outlined.

          In the end, I suspected that preliminary research has found it to be too much distracting.
          Car currently on the road seem to have gone for much simpler and primit

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What happens when all the other cars around it are also emitting the same pattern?

  • by captaindomon ( 870655 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @04:22PM (#51887341)
    Why is this such a breakthrough? Google self driving cars have been using LIDAR for years: http://www.extremetech.com/ext... [extremetech.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

      Why is this such a breakthrough? Google self driving cars have been using LIDAR for years

      Because this is Slashdot. The only thing that will drive Slashdot readership harder that self-driving cars is a story on SJWs, and there hasn't been any other self-driving car news today, so...

      • You missed 3d printers. My theory is that most tech has already been invented and we're picking the scraps at this point. I'd love to be wrong, but I'm waiting.
        • You both missed the singularity, duh.
        • And H1Bs and Ageism. It's almost as if it is pure coincidence that the guys complaining about H1Bs doing their job for less and not being able to find jobs after a certain age also have an issue with advances in technology like 3D printers.

          This site is heavily populated by 21st century blacksmiths and buggy whip manufactures whining about 'that new fangled technology' wondering why no one needs them anymore.

    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      I'm wondering how large these systems will be? The ones on Google's cars work well but are quite unsightly. I don't think the average carbuyer is going to like a roof mounted spinning sensor the size of a coconut, unless he's a cop.

  • Sure but the lights aren't just there so the driver can see.

    Often times it's important for other people to see you.

    • Making a car that can drive at night is good. But why would you make one that can drive without headlights?

      I can see the military application, but they didn't mention which era of Stark Industries this was for.

  • the revenuers won't have a clue
    • the revenuers won't have a clue

      I'm not sure about that.

      I get the feeling that self-driving cars are going to usher in a level of government surveillance and control over our private transportation like we've never seen before. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.

  • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @04:41PM (#51887453)

    Do not look into lidar with remaining good eye...

  • If rain/snow interferes with visible light it will also interfere with Lidar.

    • by LDAPMAN ( 930041 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @05:14PM (#51887603)

      Not necessarily. Lidar can use multiple beams and multiple wavelengths to work around this.
      http://velodynelidar.com/faq.h... [velodynelidar.com]
      "Velodyne's LiDAR sensors work well in snow, sleet, and rain. The multiple beam approach of Velodyne's LiDAR sensors with laser beams with millions of laser beams at different angles enables to find "holes" in-between the snowflakes to "see" the environment. An inferior LiDAR with only one or a few laser beams would not work as well as one with 16, 32 or 64 laser beams."

      • and that's probably true for a 'stationary' Lidar gun being used for speed enforcement. And which can be wiped off frequently.

        The problem is a car driving through snow/ice that builds up in front of the laser/sensors.

        I know I've driven in ice storms where I stopped to 'de-ice' my car and I quite literally had a 2-3 inch high pile of ice all around the front of my car when I was done. That's a LOT of ice for said lasers to get through.
        • by MTEK ( 2826397 )

          I imagine people in your climate are viewed as edge-cases, despite the millions of you. An electrically heated windshield (and other surfaces), however, could probably prevent ice buildup. What I'm curious about is how clean the sensors have to be kept. Will one strategically placed bird shit or bug splat cause my car to do something unpredictable?

          • by LDAPMAN ( 930041 )

            There are multiple sensors and the system is able to handle some degradation. The engineering required to make this work is well understood and has been in use for military and aerospace application for a long time. Properly implemented, these systems are not that delicate.

            • There is a reason that military and aerospace equipment is extremely expensive. Would a self driving car be viable if the chassis cost $10k and the sensor suite cost $1000K?

              • by LDAPMAN ( 930041 )

                Cost is an issue but technology capable of acceptable reliability can be done for a few $K now and that price should come down with scale.

                • You talk about "military and aerospace" and then "acceptable reliability" . Those term are generally mutually exclusive. Today's "acceptable reliability" is not being able to work in rain/snow. There is a big leap in cost/complexity to get over those conditions.

    • That's why car with collision avoidance systems currently on the streets (e.g.: Volvo)
      combine the input from several sensors.

      Not only do they use LiDAR (like TFA) and camera (also limited by visible light).

      But also short-range sonars ("Parking sensors") that are less disturbed by snow (but are easier to disturb by air turbulence/compressed air).
      and long-range radars (the thing mainly used by adaptive cruise-control).

    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      IT will still "see" a 100 times better than a meat sack with only 2 often fairly degraded optical sensors.
      • But that meat sack can interpret what it sees while the sensors have yet to crack that.

        • by delt0r ( 999393 )
          WTF? What is it about /. and magic brains. Our brains are not magic, they are not in tune with the force, they cannot see the future. Conciseness is not fucking magic. Computers already do better most of the time. In a very short time they will be better ALL OF THE TIME. Already they are better than any human in snow and rain. Humans are just to fucking arrogant to admit they can't see shit and stop driving. Causing accidents and killing each other.
          • For example, a computer has difficulty differentiating a brown paper bag from a rock in the road. The former can bet driven over. The latter not so much. Even the Google car requires every traffic control signal to be located and tagged so the vehicle can find the relevant one. If by "magic" you mean "not well understood by science" then the human brain is magic. We have very little understanding of how it works and less on how to emulate it in computers.

            Under some conditions computers do perform better but

  • Knight Rider was doing this in the 80's.
  • I'm presuming that deer (and other animals, like Moose) will be a considerable risk with this technology.

    If the cars aren't emitting any visible light and are probably close to silent (assuming that when this technology comes about many cars will be electric) won't they be close to invisible to wildlife?

    Wondering from the Great White (seriously, April 11 and we have snow here in Toronto) North.

    • who says the cars won't be emitting visible light? It's ridiculously stupid to make cars LESS visibile just because they are self driving cars.

      replace deer with pedestrians. You wouldn't have these driving down town lanes with no lights on would you?
    • Actually head-lights have the opposite effect to wild-life: they increase danger.

      When they get shone on by the head-lights, wild animals get startled and most often their natural reaction is to freeze
      (hoping that the potential predator won't notice them ? i think that's a plausible explanation for the behaviour)

      Standard procedure (as taught in driving course here around) is to hit the horn, so the noise will scare them into fleeing.
      (It works, in my personal experience)

      No headlight could in theory avoid the

  • Does this mean my handy "avoid-speeding-tickets" detector is going to beep every time a Ford goes by?

    I'm already annoyed at the K Band alert going off every time I near a new vehicle that has driving assist technologies enabled.

    • I'm already annoyed at the K Band alert going off every time I near a new vehicle that has driving assist technologies enabled.

      Sorry. Not Sorry.

    • by DrYak ( 748999 )

      Nope: your detector typically detect radio waves (as used by some doppler based speed traps).

      It can't detect laser (in advance) because it's highly directional. The only situation where it could detect a laser is once the laser is already pointed at your car, at which point it is already too late, you're already being measured and eventually fined.

      So no detector will try detecting lasers and thus no detector will get set of by a Ford.

      Same with the other "avoid.speeding tickets" gadgets which are based on GP

      • Unless he has one of these [k40.com]:

        Which I can only imagine would cause interesting readings on the LiDAR-equipped vehicle.
        • Unless he has one of these [k40.com]

          This is not a detector, this is a jammer.
          Whenever a laser beam is shone from afar on the car
          (from a long distance, like when the cop start pointing the gun toward a car of which they want to measure the speed)
          at that distance the beam is diffused (even if only a bit), if it was visible light wavelenght, you the driver would see the laser gun glimering whenever it is pointed in the general direction of the vehicle.

          This laser light is detected by the detector, which triggers an alarm (so the driver knows to r

          • I was mainly referring to the fact that if the GP has a LiDAR version of an "avoid-speeding-tickets" detector as he referenced, then the Ford LiDAR might (?) cause his detector to beep. I don't have one either (and only have so much time at work to kill doing research), so pure speculation whether the police LiDAR operate on the same band as the scanning LiDARs.

            The jammer will probably not see it as a big light exciting its detectors, put occasional small points crossing 1 or 2 sensors at a time. How it will react to this is an unknown to me, but I'll surely it will be more optimized for long range (to predict laser speed traps) and might (correctly) assume this to be useless noise.

            Maybe. I don't know how steady a police officer can hold a laser speedfinder, so the detectors might be programmed to respond to any beam, regardles

  • I hope they had the good sense to encode a unique identifier into the LIDAR beam so that each car can tell its own LIDAR reflection from another, otherwise you will see a very different kind of "traffic jam" in the near future. Each car will be jamming the signals of every other car, and nobody will move an inch, not knowing where anything is. I searched the "news story" and found absolutely no indication that they even planned that far ahead. But don't worry, they didn't miss all the important Stock Mark
  • Total darkness implies the Li of the Lidar was turned off.

    Lidar exists as an acronym of Light Detection And Ranging, and was originally created as a portmanteau of "light" and "radar".

    • Total darkness implies the Li of the Lidar was turned off.

      No. It implies that "total darkness" is a term applied to human visual acuity. Near infrared is still considered light, even though human visual sensitivity to it is nil.

      You don't say that the pitch black night where you cannot see your hand in front of your face is actually brightly lit, do you? After all, there is all kinds of EM radiation all over the place, so your "total darkness" exists only because you cannot see it, not because it was turned off.

  • Imagine walking or driving by 1000 car a day pulsing laser and radar all over the place, that should be a real concern yet I don't read any mention.
  • In related news, Ford tests Model T in total darkness using "headlights" tech.

  • I can finally get my sharks with friggin' Lidar beams!

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