Advanced search

Smart headlights enhance driver vision during storms

A new smart headlight system could help drivers to see during a rain or snowstorm.

Developed by US researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the system improves visibility by constantly redirecting light to shine between particles of precipitation.

‘If you’re driving in a thunderstorm, the smart headlights will make it seem like it’s a drizzle,’ said Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics at CMU.

When headlight beams are reflected by precipitation back toward the driver it can create distracting and sometimes dangerous glare.

The new system uses a camera to track the motion of raindrops and snowflakes, and then applies a computer algorithm to predict where those particles will be just a few milliseconds later. The light projection system then adjusts to deactivate light beams that would otherwise illuminate the particles in their predicted positions.

‘A human eye will not be able to see that flicker of the headlights,’ Narasimhan said. ‘And because the precipitation particles aren’t being illuminated, the driver won’t see the rain or snow either.’

To people, rain can appear as elongated streaks that seem to fill the air. To high-speed cameras, however, rain consists of sparsely spaced, discrete drops. That leaves plenty of space between the drops where light can be effectively distributed if the system can respond rapidly, Narasimhan explained.

In their lab tests, Narasimhan and his research team demonstrated that their system could detect raindrops, predict their movement and adjust a light projector accordingly in 13ms. At low speeds, such a system could eliminate 70 to 80 per cent of visible rain during a heavy storm, while losing only five or six per cent of the light from the headlamp.

Narasimhan’s team is now engineering a more compact version of the smart headlight that in coming years could be installed in a car for road testing.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Very interesting. Of course, we still have the option to slow down to a safe speed, where conventional headlights or low-set auxiliary lamps would be adequate.
    The danger with modern systems such as HID & powerful halogen lamps, is to the drivers of oncoming vehicles. I encounter some of these searchlight beam headlamps that are so badly set or badly used that they pose a real threat to my night vision. Increasingly, High-intensity LED brake lights are being used to the rear of vehicles & these too are dangerous. Yesterday I counted 7 very bright brake lights on the vehicle in front, all of them multiple LED. The driver was too idle to use the handbrake so I was treated to all these lights for a considerable time. Why can't we have a dimming system to adjust intensities in line with the ambient lighting? That would be far more useful than Mr Narasimham's latest cunning plan.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Cars are already fitted with far too many "driver aids" (multiple airbags, aircon, ABS, collision avoidance brakes) which cause mental separation from the road environment and encourage less cautious driving. This is just one more so - if you can't see how hard it's raining, why should you bother to slow down? Why not try the new adrenalin-rush sport of aqua planing instead!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Better still, prosecute those offenders with mis aligned headlights and those who blind those behind them. The present law needs to be applied diligently and severely.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • We had a 1974 stag that had a system to dim the brake and indicator lights when the sidelights were on. -worked very well.

    The trend for over 40 years seems to be don't care about blinding other drivers, look after yourself so that you can drive faster - probably in unsafe conditions !

    Do they call this progress ?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Some BMWs have brake lights that have varied outputs according to "degree of stopping".
    I agree that holding an auto car on the footbrake means those behind are subjected to the stop lights rather than tail lights....however the electric handbrakes that are on lots of new vehicles mean the usual handbrake start isn't easy or indeed possible, current Audi A4's manuals being the worst.

    I can see the point of the advance in a light system that allows one to see further in what is termed bad visibility....but it will always depend on the driver to drive at a suitable speed for the road conditions.

    It's a pity that the law isn't enforced on drivers that don't take heed of the road conditions.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Just what I want, £400 light bulbs.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • If cars can detect rain, then the same technology can switch on a speed limiter to ensure the morons who aquaplane gaily along are kept in check.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I have never felt the need to complain about red lights - except fpr the ones that Saudi lorries mount facing forward over the cab which can give the impression that an approaching lorry is the tail lights of a car in front! In fact I was once overtaken in Italy in thick fog by a car with bright rear fog lights. I was therefore able to increase my speed until I was no longer able to see the lights. How he was able to drive at that speed I have no idea.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • John - was that a deliberate system?

    Otherwise a useful safety feature but not needed on normal cars (ie fit to police vehicles etc).

    What happened to considering the conditions and driving accordingly?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say


My saved stories (Empty)

You have no saved stories

Save this article