Ford helps driver conquer fear of the dark

Pedestrian Detection uses radar and camera to identify pedestrians even at night

Published: March 16, 2017, 4:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:17 PM

Ford nighttime Pedestrian Detection

A new poll commissioned by Ford suggests that it isn’t just children who are afraid of the dark. Adult drivers are also afraid of the night, especially when it comes to driving on dimly-lit streets.

Scientists say it’s a fear rooted in prehistoric times when our early ancestors feared night predators, but when it comes to modern nyctophobia for drivers, it’s mostly a fear of hitting someone or something.

Ford commissioned the poll of thousands of drivers across Europe, with 81% admitting to being scared of being behind the wheel at night. Further, 87% for women admitted to the apprehension of nighttime driving.

The reason for the fear, apparently, is poor night vision, with more than half of respondents saying the symptom is a cause of stress. More than a third of respondents admitted to fearing being involved in a crash, while 20% said they feared hitting a pedestrian.

It’s a fear backed up by research that shows pedestrian deaths account for 24% of all road fatalities in 2015, and 48% of those happened between dusk and dawn.

“We know some drivers find hitting the road at night a stressful experience. Especially driving in towns and cities, pedestrians – sometimes distracted by mobiles – can without warning step into the road, leaving even alert drivers very little time to avoid an accident,” said Gregor Allexi, active safety engineer, Ford of Europe. “Day and night, Pedestrian Detection is designed to help identify people already in – or about to step into – the road ahead.”

But Ford also took the opportunity to introduce new technology that may aid the least of drivers’ fears — automated braking for pedestrians, who may be distracted by their mobiles and step out into the road, leaving even an attentive, experienced driver with very little time to avoid hitting them.

Pedestrian Detection is itself not a new system, but as with many driving aids, it didn’t work as well at night. The system processes information from two sources — radar located in the front bumper, and a windshield mounted wide-angle camera (working at 30 frames per second to detect movement even when the only source of light are headlights and pedestrians may be on the fringe of the light beam)— they scan the road ahead for match pedestrians to a database of “pedestrian shapes” (to prevent it from identifying trees or traffic signals as pedestrians) and when it detects a match, it sounds audible and visual warnings. If the driver fails to take evasive action, the brakes will automatically be applied.

For the nighttime component, development teams actually worked at night, sending life size test dummies into the path of vehicles on a non-lit test track. They also tested the system on busy nighttime streets of Amsterdam and Paris.

The improved Pedestrian Detection Technology will make its debut on the next generation Fiesta due later this year.