Ford has been busy testing its self-driving cars in the dark

Ford's Project Nightonomy
Ford's Project Nightonomy in action.

Before we all jump behind the wheel of a self-driving car - or rather the space where the steering wheel used to be - we need to get these vehicles ready for all kinds of difficult conditions: rain, snow, narrow country roads, and of course the pitch blackness.

Ford has uploaded a new video showing its autonomous driving tech performing in the dark, and it copes remarkably well. It relies heavily on the vehicle's Lidar laser-scanning technology and a thorough knowledge of the circuit being navigated.

With the car's cameras rendered useless by the darkness, the radar and laser kit stepped up to the plate to ensure a safe test - but they're also going to have to cope with unexpected, moving objects (like lost badgers) and roads that might not have been mapped so comprehensively as this particular test track in Arizona.

No camera no problem

Driving in the darkness is a challenge for us mortal human beings too, although we don't usually turn the headlights off as Ford did here. The company's Randy Visintainer told Re/code the purpose of the test was to "show the capability to continue to operate in the absence of the camera".

Ford expects the first use of this autonomous technology to be for some kind of mobility or ride service for people who can't drive a car normally. Eventually though, all of our vehicles will come with self-driving features built-in, and that's going to require a lot more work from all of the manufacturers and tech firms involved.

As good as self-driving cars are at navigating California in the sunshine, they need to be able to cope with every scenario they could possible face - and there are no shortcuts when you're developing something that sophisticated, so you can expect many more years of demo videos like this one.

Ditch the car and get a Segway instead:

David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.