Traffic lights looking for obstacles and avoiding the eyes of oncoming drivers are just the beginning of what is coming.
Varroc, Detroit Free Press

Millions of Americans drive in the dark. This is not a metaphor, it is the state of technology and maintenance of American lighthouses compared to countries like Canada, Europe and Japan.

In the United States, only about half of the 2018 model year vehicles offered "adequate" lights, and often only expensive, option-laden models. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, an industry group that tests and advocates security features, many US drivers do not need it.

LED headlights are a basic element for more accurate adaptive ADB lighting. (Photo: Varroc)

In addition, experts claim that an incorrect installation reduces the effectiveness of many advanced headlights, transforming what should be a safety aid into blatant embarrassment for other drivers.

It's easy to recognize problems if you've been on the wrong side of a bright lighthouse, but harder for people driving poorly lit cars or opaque lenses. They do not know what they are missing as long as they are not blinded by a curve, a construction zone or some other unforeseen obstacle that their light has not illuminated.

"Many lighthouses are in a rather distressing form," said John Bullough, director of lighting safety and transportation programs at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

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Focus the light where the driver needs it

Help is on the way, but nothing says when it will arrive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets standards for vehicle safety, is developing rules for a new technology called adaptive high beam, or ADB lights. Car manufacturers and suppliers are eager to offer the superior systems they already sell in much of the world.

"Lighting technology has never been as fast as today," said Todd Morgan, senior vice president of global product development for lighting supplier Varroc. , which has an engineering center in Plymouth, Michigan just west of Detroit.

Like the high-intensity, halogen headlamps before them, LEDs were initially limited to luxury vehicles, but according to Morgan, "LED lamps are evolving and their cost is becoming affordable" for compact and sub-compact cars and SUVs . Varroc's goal is to make these technologies and other lighting technologies affordable for the brands and vehicles of the general public.

ADB lighthouses combine three innovative features that have proven themselves over millions of kilometers in highly regulated and security-conscious markets.

They consist of:

  • Matrices of many LED lights
  • Full-time driving lights
  • Systems that remove the light from other drivers' eyes and place it on signs or potential obstacles such as roadside deer.

"We are talking about a security system with provable benefits," Morgan said. "We have tons of data from Europe, but we do not know when it will be legal in the US It's a shame."

The latest ADB lamps use digital cameras to detect vehicles, signs, etc. As they arrive, the software turns on or off the selected LEDs, while keeping the light away from drivers' eyes and signaling signals, pedestrians, detours, etc. do the same thing.

Although ADB low beam headlights are much brighter than traditional headlamps, Mr. Bullough said the LEDs should last the life of the vehicle, so increased use would not result in cost savings. higher replacement.

Better light when you tow

Other emerging technologies include:

  • Lasers to complete the LED low beam, increasing the range of headlights up to 50%
  • Micro-mirrors on LED chips, which could allow custom signature lighting, etc.

Personalized, driver-programmable lighting will require more regulation, Morgan said. We do not want to turn roads into discos. "

LEDs and high-intensity projectors have been badly received by those who think they are too bright or too hard and blind other drivers. This is often because the aftermarket lights have been improperly installed and too high to be viewed, but the arriving driver does not know it because they are staring into the light and cursing all the LED headlights .

The wrong beam angle can also be caused by vehicles towing trailers or loads whose weight lowers the rear and raises the angle of the headlights. This is less of a problem in Europe, where automatic headlamp leveling systems are common. The same systems that allow the ADB to avoid the eyes of drivers should be able to automatically adjust to towing,

NHTSA is developing ADB testing standards that seem more rigorous than the sometimes subjective ones created by the European Union and the United Nations.

Improvements to lightweight materials for lenses reduce the risk of cloud formation and fogging over time. This was not the case with old glass headlights, but it was a problem, as car manufacturers turned to plastic to gain weight.

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