"Car Tech 101: Inside night vision tech"
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Cooley On Cars
Cooley On Cars
Car Tech 101: Inside night vision tech
Night vision technology.
You've learned about it over the years in everything from Pentagon bomber videos to NCIS episodes.
But it's still a Exotic in cars, but may not be so for long.
How it works, and what can it really do.
Now, to be sure, night vision is an interesting term because it's really vision at all, not the way you do vision.
Your eyes see the world by reflected light.
That's part of where you see color, for example.
It bounces off something and the way that it reflects from it, at what wavelink, makes different colors.
Almost completely different than what a night vision camera does.
It sees heat, heat that you can't see.
It's in a spectrum that your eyes unable to detect.
It's called far infrared, 8 to 12 microns, for you visual geeks out there.
You can't see what comes out of here until a separate ECU or computer takes that information and creates a synthetic video picture of what you could see if your eyes could do what this can do.
It's usually a black and white image with synthetic colors overlayed to call out alerts of different things you should pay attention to.
But to say this is a camera like any other video camera is wrong.
It's picking up heat and that's why it's valuable.
An infrared sensor can see what you can't see and can do so at a range that you can't detect as well.
It wasn't too long ago that all of this could have never fit in a car.
When I was a young engineer at Hughes
Company to make vision equipment that we were developing were so large you couldn't put it in the trunk of a Chevrolet or a Cadillac.
So, it was a big challenge to figure out how to reduce the size down to the size of a coffee cup and to actually make it affordable for [UNKNOWN]
[UNKNOWN] been working on night vision techs and he once refused Aerospace in the 80s.
Today, he runs the night vision unit of Autoliv, the largest safety focused supplier to the car industry.
People, as they get older, have so much trouble seeing at night, even young people that drive.
[UNKNOWN] that the headlights are good enough to allow them to see objects on the road.
But in reality, you don't see very well.
And when someone hits a pedestrian at night, their first reaction is I just didn't see him.
Besides just giving you an enhanced view out there, car makers can also highlight pedestrians, even animals right on the screen.
WE train the ECU
They look for things like animals and pedestrians.
Pedestrians have heads and they have arms, and they act a certain way.
And as they cross the road, it's very easy to detect them.
Animals are a little more complicated, because they come in all sizes and shapes, and because sometimes they're running and jumping, and doing all kinds of strange things that people don't do.
So we had to train our BCU to look for legs and bodies and tails and things like that.
Now of course you think night when I say night vision, but also think fog, smoke, glare.
Yeah and the reason why the infrared camera is able to see very small temperature differences.
So when you're looking through the windshield and driving down the road If the sunlight is coming in through that windshield, an infrared camera is actually capable of seeing the small temperature differences out there on the scene, on the road ahead of you, because it's not seeing the light of the sun.
So what's next for night vision?
Three things occur to me.
First, one that Autoliv refers to as Spotlight.
A general term for the idea that you can take a set of aimable lights And drive them to call out hazards on the road for the driver using that same forward looking infrared camera.
This X5 has got it mounted on the bumper, these will swivel and only one of them has to come on at a time.
Because there's typically only one object to light up, and actually show you as you drive, like a passenger holding a flashlight and helping you, what's out there to pay attention to.
You won't find this on a US spec BMW yet, because America's byzantine federal motor vehicle safety standards don't yet embrace But that may change sooner than later.
Now, my biggest gripe about night vision is how it's displayed, always causing you to look away from the road to a separate screen, at a different point of focus, and a different field of view than out the windshield.
Always struck me as jarring.
Head-up Display technology will allow the driver to keep their eyes on the road.
Cause the image is being seen ahead.
Being projected as a virtual image and allow the driver to comfortably transition between the road and that image.
And maybe as we've seen at Mercedes research center in Silicon valley populating an entire wind screen worth of HUD.
Imagine that never again having to glance away to get other information about where you should be looking which is out the windshield.
Finally, price of course has to come down on this technology.
As you noticed night vision's not on the option sheet for your Ford Fusion.
It doesn't come down to that level of market just yet.
It mostly lives in upper to very upper cars right now.
Better BMWs all the way through Bentleys and Rolls Royce.
This package up here in the grill is a big part of the cost.
Of the night vision.
What could bring the cost down would be the natural erosion of price that we see in so many electronic systems once they're [UNKNOWN] [UNKNOWN] car tech [UNKNOWN] to five right now at CNETOnCars.com.
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