Night vision finally gets as good as the promise
Night vision (backgrounder) has been around for almost two decades. Now features and usefulness are catching up with the cost. Night vision uses an infrared-sensing camera to create an image of people, animals, exhaust pipes, and rocks still cooling from a sunny day, against the cooler background. It shows up on the center stack display or in some cases in an LCD instrument panel. As head-up displays such as the new TI DLP module gain resolution, it could be projected on the windshield.
Until recently, it was up to the driver to figure out which lighter spots were people and animals vs. still-warm rocks, or if they were in the roadway and a hazard or off to the side. Shape and motion recognition has come to the rescue, recognizing the motions of a pedestrian or jogger by hand and arm movements. Now animals are recognized as well. The HUD software puts boxes around the hazards that are in the roadway. In high-end cars with multi-element headlamp arrays, one module swivels, and shines at the feet of the pedestrian, so you see him, and he knows the car knows it. It can strobe an animal, hopefully to lock Bambi in place if still at the side of the road, or at least not move, so you can steer around.
What people ought to know: Moore’s Law is about performance going up and price going down. Here, the price is still a bit over $2,000, little changed in 15 years. Some of the cool swiveling-the-lamp and light-up-pedestrians-and-animals tricks are Europe-only, because the US has always been a laggard in allowing better headlamp technology. AutoLiv, a major supplier, says it has taken out half the component costs in recent years, the implication being a HUD could sell for $1,000. It needs to be under $500 before reaching widespread acceptance. For now, it’s useful for people driving a lot of rural roads, or suburbanites who don’t want to clip joggers in dark clothing. That night vision ranked in the top five of buyer tech-wants is surprising if they know how much it costs today.