It’s not just the darkness, but fog, smog and even the glare of light can prevent you seeing nearby obstacles. Introducing the automotive night system which can detect objects you wouldn’t see with mere headlights and alert the driver to them. Given its potential to improve safety and how long we’ve had the basic technology it may come as a shock that it only dates back to 2000. That means it came in about the same era as Sat-Nav, which is also handy, but not a safety concern.
As with most innovations night systems were first installed in the luxury brand and even now hasn’t become a standard safety feature in mid-cost vehicles. The first car to employ an automotive night system was a Cadillac de Ville. This style of Cadillac was originally developed in the 1950s, but it has undergone several generations of improvement.
From the start, the goal was to make automotive night system passive and intuitive so that they didn’t provide more distraction than a driver simply concentrating on the road ahead. All the systems employ an infrared beam to pick up on objects which the human eye would miss. The main difference in the systems is how it alerts the driver.
Less passive systems were introduced by Mercedes and Toyota, which produce a black and white image for the driver. The Mercedes can only use this function when you are going at 28 mph, presumably because you are less likely to be killed by a car traveling below 28 mph. (But honestly who wants to be hit at any speed?)
You might think that as people aren’t used to black and white images that it might hard for a driver to know when to react. The people behind the DS Night Vision have thought of this. Its sensors give a red border around any objects that may be a potential danger, and then adds a yellow border if the danger changes to critical.
The BMW has a pedestrian detecting device which flashes a caution symbol if its infra-red senses that a pedestrian is in the driver’s “eye-line.” In recent years they added an animal detection device. If an animal is in the vicinity a number of LEDs will start flashing.
Should you discover something called “active vision” it means it only works on nearby obstacles. Far away obstacles can appear grainy in this type of footage, which isn’t necessarily a problem as such obstacles can generally be ignored.
Naturally the idea of creating a live stream in front of you to show you how the road is looking seems an obvious evolution. However, it’s currently thought to be too distracting. As drivers become more accustomed to technology in cars its quite possible we’ll see this innovation soon.
As this is the latest in tech it will remain quite expensive for some time, to the detriment of the pedestrian and maybe other drivers. This isn’t, from a tech standpoint, much different than ordinary surveillance devices. Night vision comes standard on baby monitors these days. The safety of others seems to come secondary to price, which isn’t how other safety features have been prioritized. The court of public opinion can shift swiftly so perhaps we’re one bad night accident away from a handy new standard safety feature.