Personally, I find driving at night relaxing, but Ford thinks I should be petrified. They claim drivers are experiencing “night fears rooted in our pre-historic past” and that “fear of the dark, or nyctophobia, can be traced back to our cave-dwelling ancestors, who were more at risk of being attacked by predators in the dark. Today it affects us behind the wheel.” I would suggest that it’s pedestrians who should fear the dark, not the pilots of multi-tonne steel machines. But I’m no evolutionary car scientist. Regardless, evidence (and common sense) show that collisions, especially fatal ones, are more prevalent when it’s dark. So, if Ford can cure our ancestral “night fears” with vehicle safety technology, we should listen up.
For the past few decades, automakers have tried to make the night safer for driving by altering light technology. LED lights, and projector beams have offered greater sight lines for drivers. Adaptive headlights turn with the front wheels to illuminate around corners. Rearview mirrors can dim automatically to reduce glare from headlights of the preceding vehicle. These innovations are great, but they operate on the assumption that the only way to improve vehicle safety in the dark is to make it… not dark.
In 2016, Ford introduced Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection. First available on the 2017 Ford Fusion, Pedestrian Detection used cameras and radar to identify objects on the road. Once it scans an object, the system cross-references it against a database of pedestrian images. If it detects a pedestrian approaching, audio and visual cues alert the driver. Then, if the driver fails to act, the system can automatically engage the brakes. This technology was implemented after 800,000 kms of testing, but it will remain in a process of constant refinement.
The second iteration of Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection is still built upon radar sensors and a camera. However, it’s now much quicker. It can capture 30 images per second, creating a map of the vehicle’s surroundings more closely resembling real-time. And, for the first time, the system will work at night. Ford’s engineers used life-sized dummies on a closed track before performing testing in busy urban centers like Paris and Amsterdam. The advanced Pedestrian Detection will debut in North America in the 2018 F-150 and Mustang.
To get your hands on the current generation of Pedestrian Detection, check out the 2017 Ford Fusion. It also boasts available safety features like Cross-traffic alert, Lane-Keeping Systems, and Adaptive Cruise Control.