Mercedes Benz has introduced a new development in automobile lighting — digital HD headlights that constantly monitor the road ahead and adjust instantaneously to illuminate pedestrians, bicyclists, road markings and street signs to help the driver navigate through the nighttime hours.
Each headlight has over 1,000,000 LED facets that are controlled individually by forwad facing cameras and the car’s onboard computer system. When a person or an object in the road ahead is detected, the headlights individually or in tandem adapt to illuminate it with a beam of light. The computer directs and focuses the beam to eliminate glare that might disturb oncoming drivers, bicyclists, or pedestrians. It can also highlight the roadway around curves and corners.
The Digital Light from Mercedes acts like a head’s up display, except instead of projecting information onto the windshield, it “paints” a digital image of a crosswalk or a street sign directly onto the pavement using light. The technology is expected to make it into production within the next few years.
Better headlights have been the subject of much research and controversy over the years. Not so long ago, the United States mandated that all cars had to use sealed beam headlights. Standard equipment units were scarcely bright enough to light up the road more than about 50 feet ahead. Young drivers were admonished “Don’t overdrive your lights!” in driver education classes. Basically, that meant not travelling more than 45 miles per hour after dark.
Eventually, halogen bulbs made it to market and manufacturers experimented with different lens designs meant to cast light on various parts of the road, especially the curb or lane markings at the right hand side of the road. Some more adventurous types liked to festoon the front of their cars with rally lights like those featured in Road & Track and other enthusiast publications. A pair of Lucas Flame Thrower long distance driving lights were de rigeur for any driver worth his string back driving gloves.
More recently, projector beam and xenon have tried to solve the nighttime driving conundrum of being able to travel swiftly and safely after dark without blinding oncoming traffic. Despite high prices, those systems have proven to be only moderately effective, although their different color beams have proved very popular for those who want their ride to stand out from the crowd.