It should come as no surprise that driving at night poses an increased risk. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 20 percent of all fatal accidents occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. - a period that accounts for only 2.4 percent of daily traffic volume.
And it isn't just drivers who are at peril. According to a 2003 study by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly half of all fatal pedestrian accidents also occur in the dark of night.
To help decrease those two sobering statistics, Ford Motor Company is lighting the way with innovative technologies.
When the all-new Lincoln crossover utility vehicle goes on sale in the fall of 2006, it will feature the state-of-the-art adaptive front lighting. "The idea is to bring the light to the road," says Mahendra Dassanayake, staff technical specialist in charge of optical electronics, "providing the driver with as much information about what's ahead as possible."
The crossover's lighting system features halogen projector-beam headlamps, mounted in a cage that pivots from left to right. Based on vehicle speed and steering wheel angle, an electric motor swivels the cage. The results are startling, shifting the light pattern as much as 11 meters left or right in a curve.
The upcoming Lincoln concept features the next generation of adaptive lighting, which features sequential LED lighting. Here the LED lights are off.
For the future of adaptive lighting, look no further than Lincoln again. A vehicle that debuts in January previews a lighting system that combines two independent light sources: a high-output halogen projector for the main beam and a secondary row of light emitting diodes (LEDs) that stretch around the sides of the vehicle.
"The way the optics in this system work together has not been seen before in the exterior lighting world," says Dassanayake. "Besides being a beautifully designed light, the system helps drivers to take corners and curves more safely - and consume less energy while doing so."
The system senses when the vehicle is approaching a curve and directs the row of LEDs to switch on sequentially. As the vehicle turns, the LEDs illuminate at a rate and intensity determined by the degree and speed of the turn. Electronic sensors analyze inputs from the steering wheel and the vehicle speed to determine how and when to illuminate the LEDs. The LEDs automatically switch off when the road straightens out. Meanwhile, the main beam continues to illuminate the overall road.
The upcoming Lincoln concept features the next generation of adaptive lighting, which features sequential LED lighting. Here the LED lights are illuminated. "The result is more light, precisely placed," said Dassanayake. "We're not taking light from one spot on the road and moving it to another, as today's cornering systems do. We're adding light for more visibility during nighttime driving."
For Dassanayake, this is the perfect definition of innovation. "No designer or engineer is paid to recreate the same thing. By taking the state-of-the-art technology, and imagining, 'What if?' we created an all-new solution for lighting."