Ford has announced two new lighting systems that use cameras and sensors to help drivers see hazards on dark roads. The prototypes are currently under development at Ford’s European Research and Innovation Centre in Germany. The new “smart” lights build on Ford’s existing technologies that use cameras and sensors to avoid accidents by warning drivers or even taking control of steering and brakes. For example, some Ford vehicles are equipped with lane-keeping features, high beams that automatically fade near other cars, and collision avoidance systems.
Ford’s new “camera-based advanced front lighting system” will widen the headlights’ beam at intersections, highlight the direction drivers should follow at roundabouts, and shine on any traffic coming from the other direction. The car will use GPS to anticipate changes in the roadway, and when GPS isn’t available a video camera will identify lane markings and street signs to predict the road’s curvature. When the driver uses the same road again, the system will remember the road and the headlights will adjust automatically.
A second system uses infrared cameras to spot people and animals from about 400 feet away by detecting their body heat. Dedicated LED lamps next to the fog lights will then shine a spotlight on the people or animals. In case that isn’t enough of a warning for drivers, the car will also display a line on the road pointing out the hazards, as well as highlighting them (in yellow or red, depending on the risk level) on a screen inside the car.
“Many people who drive at night have had to quickly react to someone or something suddenly appearing in the road – as if from nowhere. Ford’s Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System and Spot Lighting help ensure the driver is quickly alerted to people or animals that could present a danger,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. The smart headlights could potentially prevent accidents by giving drivers advanced warnings and a better view of the road, but we also wonder if all these new beams of light could end up distracting and confusing drivers. Either way, the technology is on the way. In a company blog posted last week, Ford said, “We expect this technology to be available for customers in the near term.”