Seeker Archives

Smart Headlights Cut Through Rain, Snow

Headlight beams bend around raindrops giving drivers better visibility.

In the rain, or in thick snow, visibility sometimes gets worse when the headlights are on. But imagine if headlight beams could bend around the raindrops so that the driver can see what's ahead of them.

At Carnegie Mellon University a team led by Srinivasa G. Narasimhan has found a way to do just that. By not illuminating the raindrops the headlights would avoid a common problem: in heavy rain, headlights make it harder to see, not easier. Headlight beams reflect off the rain (or snow, or fog). The reflected light heads back to the driver's eyes, not to the obstacles on the road.

ANALYSIS: When It's Raining, Run Don't Walk

The prototype system consists of a camera, projector and beam splitter, linked to a computer processor. The camera takes a picture of the raindrops at the top of the field of view. The processor can tell where the drops are headed and sends a signal to the headlights, which adjust the beams of light they send out so that there isn't any light where the raindrop is.

The whole system is fast -- the time from capture to when the light adjusts is about 13 milliseconds. A raindrop moves falls at anywhere from nine to 13 meters per second, so the drops will only fall about 9 to 13 millimeters, or about a third to half an inch.

One question the team asked is how fast the system has to be -- 13 milliseconds is a bit too long given how fast most cars are moving. Increasing the range would also be good, as it currently is about 13 feet.

Making the system faster, though, shouldn't be too big of a problem. The prototype was built with off-the-shelf parts. Custom built equipment is usually much better integrated. Computer simulations show the system could boost the range of headlights to 90 feet.

The work was presented by Narasimhan at Microsoft Research and at Research@Intel 2012, and the results were published in the Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Computational Photography.

Headlights aren't much help in heavy snow and rain, but a team at Carnegie Mellon aims to change that by making them smarter.

May 26, 2012 --

Here in the States, Memorial Day officially marks the start of barbecuing season, swimming in lakes, attending amusement parks, wearing white slacks and taking serious road trips. With the latter in mind, we've put together a series of gadgets to make your interstate sojourns more fun and easy. Wherever your journeys take you, you'll be better informed, more entertained, powered up and in the know.

BIG PIC: How Memorial Day Came to Be

Goal Zero Yeti 1250: $1,999.99 Charge the Yeti 1250 for 20 hours through a wall outlet or its dual 30W solar panels and it'll return the favor, powering your phones, tablets, home health care equipment and major appliances. It's got an impressive array of DC, AC and USB ports to plug in your various devices. And this 100-pound backup battery comes with its own roll cart. So in addition to having around the house for emergencies, it's great for camping trips and other outdoor adventures when you're "roughing it."

ION Audio Road Rocker: $119 The Road Rocker is quite the versatile sound system. This portable, rechargeable speaker lets you stream music from a Bluetooth-enabled device. It's got an eighth-inch jack for non-Bluetooth players. And a quarter-inch jack for a guitar or microphone. So you can wail out -- or make loud, pertinent announcements, as the case may be. This 21st century answer to Mr. Microphone will be available starting in August.

Lemur Vehicle Monitors BlueDriver: $39.95 Nothing kills the buzz of a good road trip quicker than that annoying Check Engine light. Stay informed about what's up with your vehicle, using BlueDriver. It plugs into your car's OBD-II port and feeds driving stats and diagnostic info wirelessly to your tablet, phone or computer. A free app helps you identify and clear trouble codes. Inside the app, you can pay extra to add features that freeze frame data, ready you for a smog check, or graph and log live data. Or if you want the whole kit and kaboodle, $49.99 unlocks all current and future features -- which will include ABS, airbag and transmission data.

Supertooth Crystal: $69 The simple, sleek, stylish new Supertooth Crystal Bluetooth speakerphone is so easy to set-up, it's practically grandparent-proof. Once paired, it'll automatically recognize your phone(s) each time you get into your car. (The sound of your door closing triggers it.) When not enabling your phone gabbing, it can stream music or turn-by-turn directions. And not only does it offer great battery life -- up to 20 hours of chat time -- but it can also monitor your phone's battery meter.

Griffin Technology WindowSeat 3 HandsFree: $39.99 For the long journey ahead, you've got your fancy adjustable leather seat with lumbar support...and your phone has the WindowSeat 3 HandsFree. Securely suctioned to the dash or windshield, this 3-point bracket will snugly cradle your trusty buddy in or out of its case. That keeps it at eye level, so you won't have to reach or look far for info. It also has a built-in microphone for fielding calls and comes with an audio cable for plugging into your car stereo's auxiliary input.

Iconosys Alternative Energy apps: Free GasBuddy is fine, but we're not always looking for gas, buddy. So it makes sense to have apps that help us find alternative energy fuels. This directory includes four apps that can help you pinpoint the nearest electric plug-in, bio-deisel, natural gas or ethanol. So drive on and feel good about it!

Roamz: Free Roamz is a community- and location-based app for iOS and (just released last week) Android. It vets such social feeds as Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram to give you helpful, current info on restaurants, bars, events and hot spots. It's free, you don't have to check in to use it and it helps you find hidden gems and happenin' places along the way, so you can enjoy them just like a local.

Sceptre E165BD-HD LED HDTV: $199 The 16-inch E165BD-HD LED HDTV works perfectly fine at home, but is just as happy on the road. This thin, light monitor has an ATSC/NTSC/Clear QAM digital tuner, for TV on-the-go. It's also got a built-in DVD player, two HDMI inputs and a USB port, for watching a whole range of stored media in 720p. And most importantly to its mobility, it comes with a car adapter -- plus, it's energy efficient, so it won't drain your battery.

Scosche reVOLT c2: $24.99 Road trips are fun, but tiring -- for both you and your oft-used gadgets. The reVOLT c2 is the smallest and most powerful dual-USB car charger on the market. It pumps 10 Watts and 2.1 Amps into each of its ports. Yep, that's enough to simultaneously charge two big, hungry iPads...or other tablets, phones, music players and the myriad devices one needs on a jag.

Verbatim 8GB Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB: $14.75 This miniscule 8GB Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB is barely bigger than the male USB jack itself, but can hold a couple thousand songs. So load it up from your Linux, Mac or Windows computer and plug it into the USB port on your head unit. You'll have enough tunes to drive straight across the country, no iPod necessary!

PHOTOS: Top Strange and Impractical Techs from CES