Making light work of headlamp versatility

Drivers of the new generation Mercedes E-Class will benefit from the results of a 10-year, €50m (£34m) multi-national European research project.

The Advanced Front Lighting System project, co-ordinated by the EU’s Eureka project, has helped light maker Hella perfect the Intelligent Light System fitted to the new model unveiled at the New York Motor show.

The adaptive headlamps adjust to the driving and weather conditions automatically, reducing the decision-making burden on the motorist and boosting safety. The product is built on work carried out by partners such as Philips, Volvo, Valeo and VW.

Special attention has been paid to improving rural road safety. Here the light shines more brightly and for a greater distance on the near-side, improving road-edge visibility by 10m without dazzle.

At trunk road speeds, a uniform light cone automatically switches on when the vehicle reaches 56mph (90kph). It shines 120m ahead and illuminates the entire width of the road. In the centre of this cone the driver sees 50m further than before. The extended fog light has improved orientation and reduces self-dazzling from light reflected back by the fog. Two previous technologies are also included — active bend lighting and the cornering light.

Hella has developed these features by improving its VarioX system, in which the pattern of light projected from the high-intensity xenon lamp is determined by a variable shield — a horizontal cylinder which obscures part of the beam.

The contours of the cylinder vary around its circumference so that when it is rotated, different portions of the beam are allowed to shine ahead. A fast-acting electric motor responds to information from intelligent control electronics within a fraction of a second and rotates the cylinder so that the appropriate beam shape is created.