About five years ago a state-of-the-art adaptive front lighting system (AFS) could control car headlight beams automatically based on speed, steering angle, and other vehicle sensor data. Light could shine where a vehicle intended to turn, as opposed to shining only after the turn was completed. That functionality, introduced on higher-end vehicles, can obviously make night driving safer. It’s now available on some midrange cars, and we can look forward to the day when it will be available on every vehicle.
The next step in AFS evolution was to add a camera and image processing software and combine camera data and sensor data, so the front lighting system can adapt beams based on oncoming or approaching traffic. Steffen Pietzonka, vice president of marketing for Hella’s Lighting business unit, says the newest versions work not only with the high beam, but can also adapt the range of the vehicle’s low beam. When the brights are on an AFS can direct beams to the left and right of an oncoming car, or one that’s being overtaken, but leave a center channel open to avoid “blinding” the other driver. That would reduce stress during night driving, when the majority of accidents occur.
Those features are available for vehicles with high intensity discharge (HID) xenon headlamps but not yet available for LED headlamps, according to Pietzonka. While LED headlamps are more expensive than HID, they are also a superior light source, consume less power, last longer, and present greater opportunities for styling and differentiation. LED headlamps on the new Audi A8, for example, feature a distinctive curved-ribbon look, and the car combines daytime running lights with indicator and position lights.
Engineers are working to integrate camera and sensor data for the same level of LED headlamp control that is available now for vehicles with HID headlamps. Chances are they’ll succeed, volume will increase, prices will drop, and in a couple of decades, if not sooner, we’ll all be driving cars with LED headlamps, and that sounds like a good thing.