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Smart Headlights Could Improve Visibility While Driving

Snow and rain may no longer be an excuse to avoid driving at night. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a smart headlight system designed to help improve visibility during inclement weather.

The new technology, as demonstrated in laboratory tests, prevents distracting and dangerous glare that results from headlight beams reflecting off raindrops and snowflakes.

Sinivasa Narasimhan, an associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, said the system can detect where the precipitation will fall a few milliseconds before it lands. "It tells the headlight to stream light in between them so that you don't see it, so this hopefully will help reduce the stress when you're driving at night," Narasimhan said.

When traveling at low speeds, the lights could eliminate 70% to 80% of visible rain during a thunderstorm. To work at highway speeds, the time of the reaction would need to be adjusted slightly, a task which the lights can perform on their own. They can also detect oncoming traffic and automatically make the switch from high beams to low beams and vice versa.

Narasimhan said the system needs to be compressed so that they can be installed in cars. "It's maybe about eight inches or so, eight by eight inches because we're using an off-the-shelf component for camera and projector," Narasimhan said.

Even after the size is adjusted, Narasimhan said it may be three to four years until they start appearing in vehicles. "I would predict that these kinds of headlights might come initially in high-end cars as part of maybe an upgraded package, but then slowly might trickle down to every car," Narasimhan said.