Headlight Tech helps keep drivers’ eyes on the road

According to a study by Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 40% of collisions occur in the dark, when vision is reduced and it becomes more difficult to see road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

This risk is increased each time a driver takes his eyes off the road. A vehicle traveling at 90 km/h travels 25 meters per second, which means that just glancing at the navigation on the car screen can result in “blind driving” for 10 meters or more . On an unlit road, this may mean missing an important sign or a bend in the road.

The problem is particularly serious for older road users. Between the ages of 15 and 65, the recovery time from glare increases from 1 to 9 seconds. This is one of the reasons why people find night driving more difficult, even for experienced drivers. It also takes time for the eyes to get used to the dark after being in a lighted building or after driving on a well-lit road.

High resolution headlights

Ford Europe is working on what it calls “high resolution” headlights that do more than just light the road. The headlights are also capable of projecting signs and other information such as directions, speed limits and weather information directly into the driver’s line of sight. Thus, the driver’s gaze can remain fixed on the path to follow.

The headlights are linked to the infotainment navigation system. Connecting the headlight to the navigation system allows the system to display upcoming turns in the road.

This technology is based on existing head-up displays (HUDs) that project useful information onto the windshield in front of the driver. In 1988, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme became the first production car with a HUD. Ford goes a step further by using headlights to project information onto the road ahead of the vehicle using augmented reality (AR) technology

In a demo video from Ford of Europe, these AR-enabled headlights are used to keep the driver aware of changing weather conditions, such as snowfall, fog, slippery conditions or an icy road by displaying images on the road. (eg, a snowflake).

Said Lars Junker, features and software, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, Ford of Europe,What started out as playing around with a spotlight and a white wall could take lighting technologies to a whole new level. It’s now possible to do more than just illuminate the road, to help reduce the stress of night driving. The driver could get essential information without ever having to take his eyes off the road.

A potentially significant complication is that projecting images on the road may be subject to different legal regulations in different markets. As such, Ford emphasizes that this vehicle feature is developed for testing purposes only and undergoes testing in controlled environments.

Mercedes digital light

Ford will not be the first to market this type of technology. Mercedes-Benz already offers similar technology on its Mercedes-Maybach S-Class Vehicles. Called Digital Light, it allows new functions (for example the projection of guidelines or warning symbols) on the road in front of you.

Digital Light has a light module with three LEDs in each headlamp, the light of which is refracted and directed by 1.3 million micromirrors. Micromirrors take up roughly the same area as a thumbnail. A control unit with a graphics processor uses an HDMI type connection to generate a continuous video stream to the mirrors. In this sense, Digital Light uses video projector technology.

The beam, divided into 1.3 million pixels, allows precise light distribution. According to Mercedes, this makes Highbeam Assist more than 100 times more accurate than an 84-pixel light when excluding oncoming traffic or road signs from the light beam. The light/shadow graduations and light distribution of all other adaptive lighting functions are also carried out more precisely, optimizing illumination by fog lights, motorway lights or urban high beams.

Digital Light supports the driver with the following functions:

  • Warning of recognized road works by projecting a shovel symbol on the road surface.
  • Aim a spotlight at detected pedestrians at the side of the road.
  • Traffic lights, stop signs or no-entry signs are indicated by the projection of a warning symbol on the road surface.
  • Assistance on narrow lanes (works) by projecting markers on the road.

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