Opel's got a bright idea for headlights


  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 18 Mar 2015

EYE-TRACKING TECHNOLOGY: The headlamps illuminate what the driver is looking at, as well as the road ahead.

A host of modern premium cars already sport adaptive headlamps that can track and move in sync with steering wheel movements, but Opel's concept is focused on the driver, instead. 

The idea is simple, a headlamp that focuses its beam on what the person behind the wheel is focused on. And the idea is not far away from becoming a reality, even if getting there is proving complex. 

"We've been pursuing this concept of controlling the direction and intensity of light based on where the driver is looking for around two years. The more we understand the benefits of this technology, the more intensively we push ahead with our joint project," says Ingolf Schneider, director of lighting technology at Opel. 

Faithfully tracking movements across all axes normally requires multiple sensors or cameras in order to measure depth as well as direction. 

However, Opel is developing a system that uses a single camera, meaning that it would be cheap enough to introduce across the company's entire vehicle range. 

The camera is equipped with an infrared sensor and tracks movement around the nose and eyes 50 times a second and this information is used to move the motorized headlamps. 

However, our eyes are constantly flitting around and refocusing on the things we see, whether walking down the road or driving along it at night. Transferring this constant movement to the headlights could be like a strobe light at a nightclub. 

"To overcome this problem, we have successfully developed a sophisticated delay algorithm which ensures a suitably flowing movement for the light cone," says Schneider. 

"Another major benefit is that the eye-tracker doesn't have to be individually calibrated for a particular driver. The system works perfectly with anyone behind the wheel, no matter what their size." 

And, to ensure safety, a separate beam of light continues to shine in the car's direction of travel, regardless of where the driver is looking. 

The Citroen DS, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, was the first car ever to feature ‘dynamic' headlights that moved with the steering wheel in order to illuminate the corners and the bends. 

And while other companies have since taken the concept and modernized it with motors and sensors – Citroen's system used rods attached to the steering wheel at one end and the lights at the other – that's about as far as headlight technology moved on in the 20th century. 

However, in the last five years, the rate of innovation has been intense. BMW and Audi now have laser headlights that project a beam that replicates daylight for the driver, and Mercedes is using a 250-LED light setup to be able to dip individual light lenses and keep others fully illuminated so that its cars don't dazzle oncoming traffic but keep drivers safe. 

Interestingly, when Nissan was asked why its flagship GT-R supercar doesn't have motorised intelligent headlamps, a representative said that the car corners and changes direction so quickly that there was no motor available that was able to move the headlights quickly enough. – AFP/Relaxnews

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