Reactive headlight is set to improve road safety

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The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a programmable headlight incorporating imaging technology, which blacks out the small parts of the beams that shine into the eyes of oncoming drivers.

The headlight uses a camera to track oncoming vehicles and alter the beam as required; it enables drivers to use their high beams without dazzling other road users.

In addition, the headlight can track individual flakes of snow or drops of rain in the immediate vicinity of the car and actively block any reflection that might occur.

Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics at the Robotics Institute, explained that this can all be achieved with the same headlight, whereas the new systems some manufacturers are currently installing, such as multi-LEDs, are one-off systems with different headlights required for individual specialised tasks.

Instead of a standard headlight or cluster of LEDs, the research team’s system uses a DLP projector to divide the light into one million tiny beams which can each be independently controlled and adjusted by an on-board computer.

According to Robert Tamburo, the project’s lead engineer, the time between detection by the camera and a corresponding adjustment in the illumination is between 1 and 2.5 milliseconds. These minor changes in overall brightness are generally not noticeable by the driver, and the quick reaction time means that the system does not require sophisticated prediction algorithms, in most cases.

The experimental system has been assembled from off-the-shelf parts and then mounted on 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 commented that the smart headlights could be accommodated by trucks and buses whose headlights are especially prone to causing glare due to their high positioning. In the future, miniaturisation should make the smart headlights compatible with smaller vehicles.

The research was supported by Ford Motor Company, the Intel Science and Technology Center for Embedded Computing, the Office of Naval Research, and the US National Science Foundation. It is part of the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation Center at Carnegie Mellon.

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