Carmakers shine light on safety
Carmakers shine light on safety

Carmakers are working on a new generation of intelligent headlight systems that would significantly improve vision at night, during which most fatal accidents occur.

"We can say that the risk of having an accident doubles when driving at night," says the headlight expert at Mercedes, Uwe Kostanzer.

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Engineers have during the past few years made great strides in improving headlights with xenon and LED lighting systems.

BMW meanwhile has become the first carmaker to announce that it will be introducing in the next three years the first laser light in the electric sports car i8.

"They are smaller, lighter and use less energy. At the same time it is much brighter than LED headlights," says BMW developer Volker Levering.

BMW is not revealing the cost of the new headlight system but it is to be expected that they will soon reach the mass market. However, Levering is sceptical that this kind of lighting will actually replace all conventional bulb lighting systems.

"As long as there is no legislation banning them there will be cars with bulb headlights because their pricing is unbeatable," Levering argues.

Intelligent headlight systems are no good if the driver does not use them because he/she fears that oncoming cars might be blinded.

Studies in the US have revealed that only a quarter of drivers activate the high beam manually where it is useful. Thus many modern cars are equipped with headlight assistant systems or electronic helpers that automatically switch to high or low beam.

The new Mercedes E Class goes one step further with the high beam locking itself to the bumper of the car in front or to an oncoming vehicle like a magnet. The road is lit up just enough so as not to blind other motorists.

BMW is working on a non-blinding light-assist that instead of switching off the high beam only dims part of the headlight so that only the road section travelled on and the side of the road is lit up to the maximum capacity. In addition both Mercedes and BMW are working on a system linking the headlights to a pedestrian recognition system.

An infra-red camera monitors people at the side of the road who are then lit up by an additional spotlight. Pedestrians are recognised from a distance of 63 metres in contrast to the average of about 29 metres, according to BMW's lighting expert Dominik Schneider. At a speed of 100 km/h the driver has an additional one second to react.

Although pedestrian protection rates high, Swedish car maker Volvo is also working on a system that recognises wild animals along the road.

With the Nordic country covered by huge forest tracts, roads are frequented by large animals such as elks which often cause fatal accidents.

Volvo is working on a similar spotlight system that illuminates the animal from a distance so that the driver is warned in time. It could also be linked to an emergency braking system, according to Volvo engineer Andreas Eidehall.

A good lighting system also means that the car can be seen by other traffic participants. An Audi A2 concept study has a so-called "dynamic light" that stretches in a line below the windows around the car. When the indicator light or brake is activated the light signal can be seen around the car.

The West Australian

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