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Ford Develops Nighttime Pedestrian Detection Tech

March 16, 2017

Ford's improved Pedestrian Detection safety feature addresses a common fear among drivers: the risks of night blindness or striking a person or object after dark. Photo courtesy of Ford.
Ford's improved Pedestrian Detection safety feature addresses a common fear among drivers: the risks of night blindness or striking a person or object after dark. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Ford is introducing new technology designed to detect pedestrians at night and then automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond to initial warnings.

The new pedestrian detection feature addresses a common fear among drivers, according to the automaker. Worries over night blindness and the possibility of hitting someone — or something — top a new Ford-commissioned poll about nighttime driving concerns in Europe.

“We know some drivers find hitting the road at night a stressful experience,” said Gregor Allexi, active safety engineer for Ford of Europe. “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. Day and night, Pedestrian Detection is designed to help identify people already in — or about to step into — the road ahead.”

Of thousands of drivers surveyed across Europe, 81% admit to being scared on the roads at night. That number rises to 87% for women. More than half say poor night vision is a source of stress, and more than a third worry they might be involved in an accident. One in five drivers surveyed highlighted fears that they may hit a pedestrian.

This is a global issue. In 2014, across Europe, more than one in five road fatalities were pedestrians. Almost half of them died following accidents that occurred after dark. In the U.S. in 2015, three in four motor vehicle-related pedestrian deaths occurred during dark hours, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To help develop the improved technology, the Ford team sent life-sized dummies into the path of vehicles on closed tracks at night. They tested the system on public roads in busy cities including Paris and Amsterdam.

Pedestrian Detection processes information from a radar located in the bumper and a windshield‑mounted camera. A database of “pedestrian shapes” enables the system to distinguish people from objects such as trees and road signs. The camera delivers more than 30 frames per second. The live video and viewing angle enable the system to pick out pedestrians, even in low-light conditions, illuminated only by the headlights.

If Pedestrian Detection identifies an imminent collision with a pedestrian, the system first provides audible and visual warnings to the driver. If the driver fails to respond, the system automatically applies the brakes.

Later this year, the more advanced Pedestrian Detection technology will be introduced on the next generation Fiesta in Europe. In North America, the new technology will debut first on the 2018 Ford F-150 and 2018 Ford Mustang.

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