Smart headlights

Yeah, right:

“We have introduced a headlight system that can see through rain” and other precipitation, says Srinivasa Narasimhan, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Narasimhan’s team worked with researchers from Texas Instruments and France’s Paris Institute of Technology, with funding from the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Intel Corp.

Narasimhan is the first to admit that the concept sounds a bit farfetched. The key is that even a sheet of heavy rain is still mostly empty space. “When we see rain, we see streaks, so it looks like the precipitation is inhabiting the air very densely,” Narasimhan says. “But if you look at an instantaneous snapshot of rain it’s actually very sparse. This is the case even in a thunderstorm.”

The headlight is actually an array of bulbs. The system uses a digital camera to track the motion of individual raindrops or snowflakes and then applies a computer algorithm to predict where each bit of precipitation will be a few milliseconds later. It deactivates bulbs that would otherwise illuminate the drops or flakes in their predicted positions.

9 comments for “Smart headlights

  1. August 8, 2012 at 09:34

    Why not? Rain is made of drops that fall at 32 fps they are mostly balls of water that reflect light at a known angle in a known way.

    The angle you want to avoid is the narrow one that bounces light from the closer drops to the driver’s eyes.

    If you can flicker your lights like a strobe and from different angles then you loose the “streak” and get a bead curtain. Time it right and the closer beads at just the wrong angle are there when the light is off..

    Quite clever really. I guess snow would be more complicated.

  2. dearieme
    August 8, 2012 at 09:46

    Does the driver coming the other way see a lot of flickering lights? If so, it’ll generate epileptic fits.

  3. JD
    August 8, 2012 at 10:04


    strobe lighting accounts for fewer than 5% of epileptic seizures.

  4. August 8, 2012 at 10:45

    derieme, Probably not, or it would be secret and DARPA would be funding it ^_^.

    Ummm… Tho it did say funding also by the Office of Naval Research.

  5. dearieme
    August 8, 2012 at 15:11

    “strobe lighting accounts for fewer than 5% of epileptic seizures”: that’s because epileptics avoid strobes. How on earth can they avoid headlights?

  6. August 8, 2012 at 15:38

    Why am I still here?? I didn’t invent the wretched thing but I don’t guess it would be an actual visible to the eye strobe any more than the tv is or 3D shutter glasses.
    I wish I never used the word.

  7. JD
    August 8, 2012 at 16:04


    I am epileptic and strobe lighting does not affect me and the figure of 5% is confirmed by my neurologist and research.

    Around three in every 100 people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy. It usually begins before the age of 20, most commonly between the ages of seven and 19. Photosensitive epilepsy affects more girls than boys.

  8. August 8, 2012 at 17:28

    Moggsy – what word?

  9. August 9, 2012 at 07:22


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