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Rain-Dodging Headlights Can Now Handle Snow

June 25, 2013

Last year we reported that researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Intel had developed a prototype headlight that could avoid lighting up raindrops, giving a driver a clearer view of the road ahead (see “Smart Headlights See Through Rain and Snow”). That team has now developed a version able to cope with wind-blown snowflakes, too, and tested it during a snowstorm in Pittsburgh.

The smart headlight system works by having a camera track the path of raindrops or snowflakes and using that information to selectively black out parts of the headlight beam. Doing that fast enough makes it possible to  shine light only around precipitation and not onto it.

Intel’s chief technology officer, Justin Rattner, today showed a video of the road test in which the system appears to be working in place of a vehicle’s conventional headlights. That video (below) shows the lights at first acting like conventional headlights, creating a bright patch of reflection off nearby snowflakes. But when the adaptive system is switched on, that highlight disappears. The difference appears more noticeable in the video than in the screen shots I captured during the talk.

The first version of the system worked best for rain because its software assumed that precipitation would travel roughly in a straight line. The improved version is able to handle the sometimes curved or swirling tracks of snowflakes. “Rain takes a predictable path,” said Rattner, speaking at an event to showcase Intel research in San Francisco today. “Snow is much more random.”

Rattner also said that Intel is exploring how to commercialize the technology. “We’re off talking to automakers and tier-one automotive suppliers about turning this technology into a product,” he said. He didn’t indicate how far from real-world use the system is.

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