Smart Headlights Shine Around Rain and Snow

By Chelsea Whyte on July 10, 2012 7:57 PM EDT

driving in the rain
Driving in the rain can be stressful and dangerous, but new smart headlights promise to cut the glare from raindrops and snowflakes. (Photo: Creative Commons: Yuya Tamai)

Driving through a heavy rainstorm can be a treacherous task that leaves a driver leaning over white knuckles to see through the haze. But a new type of 'smart headlight' produced by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute aims to improve visibility by constantly redirecting the light to shine between drops of precipitation.  

"If you're driving in a thunderstorm, the smart headlights will make it seem like it's a drizzle," said Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics.

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The headlights use a camera to track the motion of falling raindrops and snowflakes, and then uses an algorithm to predict where those particles will be milliseconds later. The high-speed camera can detect the individual drops of rain and then react quickly enough to deactivate or light up specific sections of the headlight to shine in the gaps between the rain.

"A human eye will not be able to see that flicker of the headlights," Narasimhan said. "And because the precipitation particles aren't being illuminated, the driver won't see the rain or snow either."

In lab tests, the detector was able to see raindrops and predict their movement within 13 milliseconds. At low speeds, the system can eliminate about 75 percent of the visible rain. The headlights were less effective at higher speeds. At 60mph, the system only had a 20 per cent success rate compared to 79 per cent at slower speeds, according to The Daily Mail.

But the researchers are confident the speed of the system can be boosted to accommodate highway travel.

Eventual road-worthy systems likely would be based on arrays of LED light sources in which individual elements could be turned on or off, depending on the location of raindrops, reports UPI. And if the system fails to eliminate the dangerous glare of falling rain, it's not a hazard.

"If it fails, it is just a normal headlight," said Narasimhan.

Narasimhan's team is now engineering a more compact version of the smart headlight that in coming years could be installed in a car for road testing, according to Futurity.org.

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