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Imagine car headlights made up of thousands of small cones of light instead of one broad fixed beam.  Now make these cones movable so you can direct them around in front of the car, say for example, away from oncoming traffic at night or around angles when your car is turning.  Here’s another possibility, let’s make these lights capable of projecting graphics on the road too such as arrows, lane markers or even textual information.

Welcome to the concept of programmable headlights.  A team of engineers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has developed a prototype of a programmable headlight that performs these functions. The secret of how this is accomplished isn’t new; it uses a version of the Digital Mirror Device (DMD) chip that Texas Instruments has been making for video display devices for years. In older rear screen projection televisions, DMD chips are mated with spinning color wheels to make bright video images.  In the Carnegie Mellon application, only a DMD-like chip and a light source are needed to light up the road ahead.

As you may imagine, driving the DMD chip in a programmable headlight device requires some sophisticated electronics and sensors. One amazing feature still under development is the ability to make snow and rain “disappear” when you drive. To make snowflakes or raindrops disappear, the system tracks the falling flakes, predicts where they are going, and then turns off the beams that would otherwise reflect light off the flakes. This occurs so rapidly that to the driver it appears that that the snowflakes aren’t there.  The driver effectively sees “between the flakes.”

A particularly intriguing application would be the illumination of the road to display road markings or textual information as you drive. Imagine driving at night and then have bright beams of light displaying “Train Approaching” right on the road as you approach train tracks.  This is all very possible with programmable headlight technology.

For more information, Google “programmable headlight” and you will find a large number of articles and technical papers on the topic.

Thanks to Ken Garff Used Cars and Trucks


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