Light bright, making things with infrared light

Posted by: Mark Bilek

Night VisionThere's no arguing that today's vehicles are extremely safe. Technology has made sure of that, what with antilock brakes, airbags, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, back-up cameras . . . the list goes on and on. One oft-forgotten safety feature that not only helps keep occupants safe but also helps keep pedestrians safe is night vision.

Pioneered by General Motors and Raytheon and first seen in the 2000 Cadillac deVille and Concours, NightVision utilizes an infrared camera and a dashboard display to paint a fairly well-detailed black & white picture the road ahead. Because it utilizes differences in temperature to define objects, people and animals appear as bright shapes and trees and houses are somewhat subdued.

From behind the wheel, night vision can initially be a little overwhelming. However, drivers quickly learn to process the additional information and night vision then provides a driver with valuable information about the path ahead well in front of the headlamps' illumination range. Cadillac owners raved about the system, but we're put off by the high cost.

Though Cadillac no longer offers night vision on its vehicles, similar systems can be found in Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi vehicles. These systems have been refined and improved to actually identify pedestrians and warn when a pedestrian is in danger of impact. By creating a flash of light and warning icon, drivers can keep their eyes focused on the road.

Autoliv, producer of night vision systems for Audi and BMW vehicles is attempting to further improve night vision systems by allowing it to identify and warn of potential animal impacts. That's a big deal to people here in the Midwest, where deer roam the interstates at night and are responsible for more than 1.7 million animal-to-auto impacts nationwide.

What does this mean to the auverage car buyer?

Not much if you're in the market for a $15,000 Ford Focus. But costs for this technology are quickly coming down and that means night vision should be available in more mainstream automobiles in the near future. If you haven't had the opportunity to see night vision in action, it's worth a look.


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