Self-driving smart cars might still be years away, but the technology that makes them so smart is already benefitting drivers. Ford is currently perfecting a headlight system that uses infra-red cameras to illuminate unexpected curves and hazards on the road ahead that might be invisible to drivers otherwise.
Developed at the company's Research and Innovation Centre in Aachen, Germany, Ford's Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System actually uses a handful of clever tricks to illuminate the road ahead exactly where it's most needed for a driver. When GPS and mapping data are available, the system will ensure that the headlights — which include an extra pair of spotlights that can be pivoted left and right — are pointed in the direction of an oncoming bend in the road, or used to better illuminate dips that might otherwise go unseen until the vehicle hits them.
But when GPS data isn't available, the new headlight system also features an infra-red camera that serves as an extra pair of night vision eyes. Not only can the cameras spot hazards like pedestrians on the side of the road and automatically turn the spotlights to illuminate them, they can also recognise lane markings and signage that indicate when the road ahead is about to curve left or right.
Do the new lighting improvements, which Ford promises will be "...available for customers in the near term" mean that drivers won't have to pay attention to the road as much? Not at all, in fact, it's just the opposite. The improved headlights will give drivers even more things to be aware of when driving at night, which in turn will hopefully make them even safer motorists.