MADISON, Wis. — With the whole tech world marching to its own particular robocar promotions, it seems trivial to pose the issue of vehicle headlights designed for human drivers to see better.

After all, the utopia of autonomous vehicles is a future in which everybody will be safe without having to see anything beyond his or her nose.

However, nowadays, almost half of all traffic fatalities occur at night. While we await the birth of George Jetson, it might not be a bad idea to improve road visibility in the dark — today.

Car OEMs, Tier Ones and light source technology suppliers in Europe and Japan are already piling into the emerging market of Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB).

In a recent interview with EE Times, Lumileds, a lighting company headquartered in the Netherlands, explained that when onboard cameras sense oncoming vehicles or pedestrians, ADB can adjust the lights automatically, either dimming individual LEDs in the lamp or shifting the beam downward and sideways.

“You can leave your lights always on high beam to provide maximum lighting,” while ADB adjusts the beam away from oncoming drivers, said Dirk Vanderhaeghen, senior director of global strategic marketing for automotive LEDs at Lumileds. “We are talking about lighting designed for safety."

In Europe, Vanderhaeghen said, participants in the ADB fray aren’t just high-end vehicle suppliers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz. ADB is coming to compact cars from Opel, Peugeot and Citroen. Japan’s Toyota is also big on ADB. “Even in China, we are now seeing RFQs for ADB,” he added.

Matrix headlamps 'mask out' the approaching vehicles, while maintaining high-beam lighting between the two cars, as well as to the right and left of each one. (Source: Hella)
Matrix headlamps "mask out" the approaching vehicles, while maintaining high-beam lighting between the two cars, as well as to the right and left of each one. (Source: Hella)

In an interview with EE Times, Hector Fratty, CEO of Driving Vision News and a Paris-based expert in automotive lighting technology and market research, calls ADB “the biggest innovation in automotive lighting.” Although the share of cars equipped with ADB represents only 1 percent of the worldwide automotive market, Fratty estimates a jump to 15 percent by 2025.

Curiously, ADB is a mystery to most drivers in the United States. It’s banned in the U.S. because the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) bureau requires discrete high and low beam settings.

Technology suppliers, such as Lumileds, are hopeful that this will change soon.

ADB is currently under review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and some vendors expect it to be greenlighted in America in 2018, or by 2020 at the latest.

Why ADB now?
As retro as “headlight” technology might sound, ADB wouldn’t have emerged without the recent, rapid adoption of vehicles featuring Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS).

Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor for Vision Systems Intelligence (VSI), told EE Times, “I do take an interest in Adaptive Driving Beam even though it is not directly related to automated driving. What is interesting is that ADB requires the same resources as the safety systems, most notably the front facing camera.”

In a report issued by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) last year to provide “test procedures, performance requirements, and design guidelines for ADB,” SAE concluded:

Recent advances in vehicle technologies have enabled active control of road illumination to the point that portions of a beam can be dimmed or removed based on inputs from the vehicle and/or its surroundings. This, coupled with advances in technologies used for lane departure warning, automatic high beam activation, and other functions has enabled the identification and location of other vehicle road users at night and to actively limit potentially glaring light to those vehicle road users.

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