Night driving is stressful enough even when skies are clear, but inclement weather like heavy rain at night can make a road trip hazardous for numerous reasons including reduced visibility. Cooperative research from a combined effort between Intel and Carnegie Mellon University has lead to a new headlight technology that could soon revolutionize night driving by making rain droplets that are caught in headlight beams virtually invisible.
Traditional headlights have seen many advances in bulb tech and automation, but even the most expensive headlights cause a distracting effect in the rain when droplets are illuminated; and the driver’s field of view becomes clouded by thousands of bright specks.
This new computerized, projection-based headlight system from the Intel-Carnegie Mellon collaboration has shown promising results and may one day make the traditional headlight all but obsolete. Instead of a bulb, or set of bulbs, simply emitting light forward to illuminate the road ahead, this new headlight system functions much more like a projector and is supported by a camera that constantly scans the road ahead, digitally filming rain droplets as they come into the path of the light beam.
The imagery from the camera is sent to a processing unit (computer) which identifies rain drops within the light beam and adjusts the headlight’s output to darken in the spots where the drops are falling. Simply put, the headlights are able to fully illuminate the road ahead while avoiding the rain droplets altogether effectively making them invisible to the driver, a process being called ‘Selective Illumination’.
Photo credit: Autoblog.com
There is a small amount of latency (lag time) due to the system requiring several milliseconds to first identify the rain droplets and then instruct the projector to blot them out. This extremely brief delay means that droplet will be seen only at the upper portion of the light beam, but they will be ignored before reaching the driver’s line of vision.
As promising as the technology is, vehicles likely won’t be equipped with such a system until later in the decade. The technology needs time to mature and there’s no question that material cost and the size of the entire assembly are other hurdles to overcome. However, even in its earliest incarnation this new headlight technology has proven that the idea of digitally removing rain from a headlight beam is possible!
One day soon, with more advanced revisions of this new headlight system, nighttime driving in the rain may not present any visibility hazard at all.