Trucks at Work

Broadening the capability of headlights

Here’s an idea: giving headlights the capability to widen or “brighten” their illuminative beams as you approach intersections, or that can warn a driver of animals and/or pedestrians in the roadway; headlights that don’t just illuminate what’s in front of the vehicle, but what might be off to the side as well.

All on their own.

“Many people who drive at night have had to quickly react to someone or something suddenly appearing in the road – as if from nowhere,” noted Ken Washington, VP of research and advanced engineering at Ford Motor Co. “That’s where our new camera-based Advanced Front Lighting System and Spot Lighting comes into play; to help ensure the driver is quickly alerted to people or animals that could present a danger.”

He noted that this “camera-based” front lighting system – being worked on by Ford in Germany as we speak – can widen the beam at junctions and roundabouts to better illuminate hazards that are not in the direction of travel, while the new “spot lighting technology” helps draw the driver’s attention to pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals in the vehicle’s path or even just off the road.

Those technologies both build upon Ford’s Adaptive Front Lighting System and Traffic Sign Recognition systems, which Washington said are already available in Ford vehicles, to provide drivers with improved visibility at roundabouts, stop, and give way or yield signs.

The system also uses GPS information to better illuminate bends and dips on a chosen route, and when GPS information is not available, that’s when the system taps a forward-facing video camera mounted in the rear-view mirror base to detect lane markings and predict the road’s curvature, using the information to illuminate the area more effectively.

In those instances, Washington pointed out, the camera stores the information in the navigation system – so when next the driver uses the same road again, the headlights adapt to the course of the road automatically to better light the way.

He added that “Spot Lighting,” which currently in the pre-development phase, uses an infra-red camera in the front grille to simultaneously locate and track up to eight people and bigger animals, including larger dogs, at a range of up to some 393 feet.

Washington also noted that the system can spotlight two hazards for the driver with a spot and a stripe on the road surface, illuminated by two special LED [light emitting diode] lamps next to the fog lights. The highlighted objects are displayed on the screen inside the car, marked in a red or yellow frame, according to the proximity of the object and the level of danger presented.

“Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting can help make it easier for the driver to travel at night in unfamiliar surroundings, and to more easily see unexpected hazards,” added Michael Koherr, research engineer for lighting systems with Ford of Europe

“At roundabouts, for example, our system helps the driver to clearly see the exits – and check if cyclists and pedestrians are crossing the road,” he said. “Spot Lighting makes potential hazards in the road ahead more easily visible to the driver – whether that is a pedestrian, a cyclist, or even a large animal.”

Interesting stuff; but now let’s see if similar technology makes its way into the commercial trucking arena.

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