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Smart Headlights Spare Drivers’ Eyes, Prevent Glare

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PITTSBURGH, Sept. 11, 2014 — Imagine leaving your high beams on without blinding your fellow motorists.

A new programmable headlight, developed by a team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, has sensors that can detect and track oncoming vehicles and black out parts of the headlight beam that would otherwise shine into other drivers’ eyes.

The system can also aid driver vision in snow or rain. It can track individual snowflakes or raindrops in the immediate vicinity of the car and block the narrow slivers of headlight beam that would otherwise reflect off the precipitation and create glare.

The programmable headlight senses and tracks oncoming drivers, blacking out only the small parts of the headlight beam that would otherwise shine into their eyes. Images courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. 

The sensors could also be used to highlight traffic lanes and work in conjunction with navigation systems to visually guide drivers.

Rather than a standard headlight or cluster of LEDs, the researchers used a digital light processing projector to create the system. This enabled them to divide the light into a million tiny beams, each individually controlled by an onboard computer.

Those many tiny light beams could be adjusted and programmed based on what was being detected: some were dimmed to spare the eyes of oncoming drivers, while others could be brightened in bad weather to highlight street signs and road markings.

The new system touts a near-instantaneous reaction time that makes prediction of the exact position of oncoming vehicles or precipitation, as well as the bright headlights’ response, simpler. The time between initial detection by the camera and resulting illumination adjustments is 1 to 2.5 ms, according to Carnegie engineer Dr. Robert Tamburo.

At left, glare typically seen from high beams. At right, glare is reduced when smart headlight features are activated.

The changes in overall illumination were minor and generally not noticeable to the driver, the researchers said.

The headlight was found to be more effective in reducing intense lights’ impact to oncoming vehicles at higher speeds, while their prevention of glare during inclement weather was more effective at lower speeds.

The researchers assembled the system using off-the-shelf parts and mounted it on top of the hood of a pickup truck, serving as the equivalent of a third headlight during street tests. The team plans to install a smaller version next year in the headlight slot of a truck.

Though larger than standard headlights at this point, the new system has the potential to be adapted for various vehicles.

Many new headlights produced by automakers can reduce glare and the impact to oncoming vehicles using multi-LEDs, the researchers said, but require different headlights to perform various specialized tasks.

“We can do all this and more with the same headlight,” said Dr. Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie.

The work was funded by Ford Motor Co., the Intel Science and Technology Center for Embedded Computing, the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

For more information, visit
Sep 2014
AmericasCarnegie Mellon UniversityConsumerdigital light processingDLPheadlightsResearch & TechnologySensors & DetectorsSrinivasa Narasimhanrobert tamburo

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