Smart headlights will help drivers see obstacles on the road at night.

Smart headlights will help drivers see obstacles on the road at night without blinding oncoming traffic. Image courtesy Carnegic Mellon University

A team of engineers at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU’s) Robotics Institute has developed a smart high-beam headlight that lights the road up for a driver without blinding drivers of approaching vehicles, as Ben Coxworth reports for Gizmag.

Robert Tamburo, who led the team, shared results of tests of the smart headlight Wednesday at the 2014 European Conference on Computer Vision (ECCV), in Zurich, according to a Carnegie Mellon press release.

Coxworth writes that the team began developing the headlight system several years ago in an effort to help drivers to see better in rain and snow. As this blog wrote back in 2012, the prototype smart headlights send light around, rather than on, drops of rain, for example.

And now the developers have announced that the system also works to prevent drivers of oncoming vehicles from being blinded by the high beams, Coxworth writes. As the CMU press statement explains, the headlight is programmable. It “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.” The release highlights the features of the system:

‘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.’

The team divided the headlight’s light stream into “a million tiny beams,” each one able to be controlled independently by an onboard computer, CMU writes. The researchers accomplished this by using a digital light processing projector rather than a standard headlight or LED cluster.

As an oncoming car approaches, a camera in the system senses the vehicle, along with any precipitation and other objects along the road such as signs. The system adjusts the million tiny light beams, brightening some beams perhaps to make it easier for the driver to read signs, and dimming other beams so as not to blind drivers in approaching vehicles, CMU writes. The system reacts so quickly it’s almost instantaneous; the time between detection and beam adjustment is between 1 and 2.5 milliseconds, CMU quotes Tamburo as saying.

The programmable headlights illuminate the traffic lane, making driving safer when the edges of roads and lanes are not obvious, as when they are obscured by snow. The smart headlights can also be used to project arrows and other signals on the road to help drivers find their way.

Narasimhan said that these smart headlights, which provide many functions, are different from ones that some automakers are providing, most of which “are one-off systems … with different headlights required for different specialized tasks.”

The CMU research team that developed the system includes Takeo Kanade, professor of computer science and robotics; Anthony Rowe, assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering; Abhishek Chugh, a master’s degree student in computer science; Subhagato Dutta and Vinay Palakkode, both master’s degree students in ECE; and Eriko Nurvitadhi and Mei Chen of Intel Research, as CMU writes.

The team plans to create a smaller version of the prototype, which is “relatively large and bulky,” writes Coxworth. It will eventually be the size of a regular headlight, he adds.

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