Smart headlights spare the eyes of oncoming drivers

September 9, 2014, Carnegie Mellon University
A smart headlight system developed at Carnegie Mellon University is able to track other vehicles on the road and selectively block light that would otherwise reach the eyes of other drivers. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute

A smart headlight developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute enables drivers to take full advantage of their high beams without fear of blinding oncoming drivers or suffering from the glare that can occur when driving in snow or rain at night.

The programmable headlight senses and tracks virtually any number of oncoming drivers, blacking out only the small parts of the headlight beam that would otherwise shine into their eyes. During snow or rain showers, the headlight improves driver vision by tracking individual flakes and drops in the immediate vicinity of the car and blocking the narrow slivers of headlight beam that would otherwise illuminate the precipitation and reflect back into the driver's eyes.

"Even after 130 years of headlight development, more than half of vehicle crashes and deaths occur at night, despite the fact there is much less traffic then," said Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics. "With our programmable system, however, we can actually make headlights that are even brighter than today's without causing distractions for other drivers on the road."

Robert Tamburo, the project's lead engineer, will present findings from tests of the system in the lab and on the streets of Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 at the European Conference on Computer Vision in Zurich, Switzerland.

The system devised by Narasimhan, Tamburo and the rest of the research team uses a DLP projector instead of a standard headlight or cluster of LEDs. This enables the researchers to divide the light into a million tiny beams, each of which can be independently controlled by an onboard computer.

Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

A camera senses oncoming cars, falling precipitation and other objects of interest, such as road signs. The one million light beams can then be adjusted accordingly, some dimmed to spare the eyes of oncoming drivers, while others might be brightened to highlight street signs or the traffic lane. The changes in overall illumination are minor, however, and generally not noticeable by the driver.

System latency—the time between detection by the camera and a corresponding adjustment in the illumination—is between 1 and 2.5 milliseconds, Tamburo said. This near-instantaneous reaction means that in most cases the system doesn't have to employ sophisticated algorithms to predict where an oncoming driver or a flake of snow will be by the time the headlight system responds.

"Our system can keep high beams from blinding oncoming drivers when operating at normal highway speeds," Narasimhan said. Rain and snow present a more difficult problem, he noted; the system reduces glare at low speeds, but becomes less effective as speed increases.

In addition to preventing glare, the projector can be used to highlight the traffic lane—a helpful driving aid when roads have unmarked lanes or edges, or when snow obscures lane markings. When tied to a navigation system, the programmable headlights also can project arrows or other directional signals to visually guide drivers.

"We can do all this and more with the same headlight," Narasimhan said. That's in contrast to new headlight systems that some automakers are installing. These include multi-LED systems that reduce glare to oncoming drivers by darkening some LEDs as well as swiveling headlights that help drivers see down curved roads. "Most of these are one-off systems, however, with different headlights required for different specialized tasks," he added.

The research team assembled their experimental system from off-the-shelf parts and mounted the system atop 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 currently larger than standard headlights, Narasimhan said the smart headlights could be accommodated by trucks and buses, whose headlights are especially prone to causing glare because they are positioned high off the ground. Eventually, miniaturization should make the smart headlights compatible with smaller vehicles.

Explore further: Lab evaluates safety impacts of advanced car headlight systems

More information: More information is available on the project website, http://www.cs.cmu.edu/smartheadlight/.

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9 comments

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tadchem
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2014
Headlights serve two purposes - to make the road more visible, and to make the vehicle more visible. By blocking light that reaches the drivers of other vehicles, this second purpose is being weakened.
loneislander
3 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2014
Well, they could save a lot of electronics by polarizing the headlights and polarize the windscreen or clear glasses at 90 degrees to block the entire headlight -- every bit of light that didn't bounce would be black while bounced light from behind that source would still get through. Some glare issues perhaps...
MrVibrating
1 / 5 (1) Sep 09, 2014
That was Edwin Land's idea wasn't it? Shame it wasn't picked up on by the authorities and made compulsory.

Still no reason it couldn't be reintroduced today and made mandatory. Being passive it's a darn sight simpler than this active system, however clever it seems..
hudres
5 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2014
Big deal. Audi, Merecedes, and BMW all have developed this system years ago. The US government will not allow this level of adaptvie headlamps into the US.
evropej
not rated yet Sep 09, 2014
Big deal. Audi, Merecedes, and BMW all have developed this system years ago. The US government will not allow this level of adaptvie headlamps into the US.


Yup, old news.
Burnerjack
not rated yet Sep 09, 2014
I have often wondered if polarizing the lights in the horizontal while polarizing the vehicle glass in the vertical would work more simply, therefore cheaper. As far as Tadcem's comment goes, running lights make a vehicle move visible to other drivers, while the retina searing headlights in use today tend to swamp the image, often drowning out any distinguishing detail making close order accident avoidance more of an intuitive event rather than competent judgement.
maxb500_live_nl
not rated yet Sep 10, 2014
This system has been developed by various European car makers (Mercedes, Audi, etc) over the passed years. And reported even on phys. The problem was that it is not yet allowed into the US because of various problematic laws and regulations.

Mercedes even has an optional system in it's European S cars that automatically highlights dangerous obstacles in the dark of night by laser. Like dear being lit up by a laser type system in the cars heads up display. It will take some years for all these new systems to get into the US.

Including Mercedes and Audi's advanced self driving features that makes it possible to drive on the highway without hands. Not in 2020 but in actual 2014 models now on sale in Europe. And not like Google with all kinds of ugly bells and whistles on top of the car but fully integrated into the vehicles and actually on sale in new models. Thank the slow US regulatory system for the holdups.
maxb500_live_nl
not rated yet Sep 10, 2014
This system has been developed by various European car makers (Mercedes, Audi, etc) over the passed years. And reported even on phys. The problem was that it is not yet allowed into the US because of various problematic laws and regulations.

Mercedes even has an optional system in it's European S cars that automatically highlights dangerous obstacles in the dark of night by laser. Like dear being lit up by a laser type system in the cars heads up display. It will take some years for all these new systems to get into the US.

Including Mercedes and Audi's advanced self driving features that makes it possible to drive on the highway without hands. Not in 2020 but in actual 2014 models now on sale in Europe. And not like Google with all kinds of ugly bells and whistles on top of the car but fully integrated into the vehicles and actually on sale in new models. Thank the slow US regulatory system for the holdups.
MrVibrating
not rated yet Sep 10, 2014
I have often wondered if polarizing the lights in the horizontal while polarizing the vehicle glass in the vertical would work more simply, therefore cheaper.


Edwin Land (inventor of the Polaroid camera and Retinax theory) developed such systems back in the 1940s, however the project died because there was no financial incentive for automobile manufacturers to incorporate the system.

Hence why i say the authorities should step in, as they do today in most other respects of auto safety (seatbelts, crumple zones etc.)

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