The roads will eventually be safer for pedestrians in the dark, and also for anyone riding in BMW cars, which in a few years will be equipped with laser headlights and the Dynamic Light Spot system (DLS). BMW debuted these at the Frankfurt auto show last month.
According to John Brandon of FoxNews.com,
The German automaker is experimenting with how the technology could be applied to advanced optical systems in future vehicles, initially to spot pedestrians at night.
The new Dynamic Light Spot technology, included in a concept car called the BMW i8, would identify and illuminate pedestrians with a bright, targeted beam as though they just walked into direct sunlight.
DLS uses cameras and infrared sensors to identify pedestrians by body heat and silhouette. Although DLS uses the same auto technology as BMW’s NightVision camera system, DLS goes further in warning drivers of pedestrians in the road, by shining one of the laser spotlights in the pedestrian.
There are two spotlights in the system and they are motorized, thus they can track two pedestrians as they move in the car’s path with the risk of being hit. The spotlights can move faster than any pedestrian can run. According to Motor Trend, BMW says that DLS identifies pedestrians in the path of the car much earlier and at a greater distance than with NightVision — 112 feet farther out, on average.
Carbuzz reports that although the technology is ready for production, BMW is waiting for the correct application before replacing its current LED headlights for trucks. The laser lights are said to be 1,000 times brighter and 100 times smaller than the square cells typically used in LED lighting. BMW developed the laser headlight system in collaboration with Nichia in Japan.
Carbuzz spoke with BMW optical systems designer Hanafi Abdul and reports:
The major benefits of this are that designers will have more freedom with the front-end styling as the space required for conventional headlights will suddenly become freed-up. Abdul also said that the laser is twice as efficient as the LED system and thus will reduce fuel consumption considerably. Finally, as it is already being used in medical and military applications, no safety or legislative concerns need be addressed.
Scott Evans in Motor Trend writes that fears of laser lights harming people’s vision do not apply in the case of laser headlights:
Of course, the first thing we all learned about lasers is not to point them at yours or anyone else’s eyes for fear of retina damage. With headlights, that simply isn’t possible, but BMW says there’s no need to worry. Laser light is dangerous to your eyes because it’s extremely concentrated and focused. The white light produced by the excited phosphorus is not and to demonstrate its safety, the engineer in charge of the project stared straight into the headlights and invited assembled journalists to do the same. Though the lights are extremely light, neither your author nor anyone else present suffered any ocular damage. There’s also no risk of the headlights doing any damage to objects in front of them or causing any fires (despite the fact that the engineer lit an incense stick from one of the laser beams to demonstrate its power) for the same reason. The actual light produced by the headlights is not laser light despite the use of lasers to create it. And if you’re worried about escaped laser beams flying around after an accident, BMW has that covered as well. Like Xenon headlights, power is immediately cut to the laser headlights in the event of any damage.
Image by BMW Group, used under Fair Use: Reporting.