Researchers at Intel and Carnegie Mellon University are developing new headlights that can selectively choose what and what not to illuminate, specifically snow and rain, with a said goal of illuminating the road as bright as possible.
Intel and a team from Carnegie Mellon University are working on headlights that will essentially make rain invisible by not illuminating it. It sounds simple enough, but the system is a somewhat intricate combination of a projector-type light source, light beam splitter, processor, and camera.
There are a number of issues with driving in the rain. For starters there’s the loss of traction, which automakers have combated with technology like all-wheel drive, traction control, and anti-lock brakes. Then there’s the issue with visibility at night, since rain reflects light and fills the driver’s line of vision with distracting bright specks.
So how does the smart headlight system make rain disappear?
First, the camera detects precipitation and sends that image to a processor. From there, the processor will compute and predict the rain drop’s trajectory and darken the headlight’s light ray in that specific area. The entire process is quick, with a claimed time of just 13 milliseconds from when the rain is detect to the deactivation of the light ray.
The team currently has a working prototype and says the technology is at about 10 years away from being production ready. Not surprisingly, there are a number of issues and challenges. For starters, the smart headlight must be able to compensate for changes in trajectory due to wind or vehicle vibrations. Next, all the components must also be able to fit into a typical headlight housing unit.
While this system isn’t slated for the immediate future, some luxury brands like Cadillac and Acura, for example, are starting to adopt LED headlights, which are more efficient and just as bright, if not brighter, than halogen or xenon units. The upcoming 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will feature all LED-headlights, with each unit consisting of 56 light emitting diodes.
Next, BMW is currently developing a laser-based headlight system, which it initially unveiled on its i8 concept car. Here, the system uses a combination of laser beams, filtering lenses, and reflectors to produce an intense, yet safe beam of light that BMW claims is 1000 times brighter than LEDs.