Driving

7 Experimental technologies that will change the way we drive at night

Driving at night presents challenges that simply aren’t there during the day. Dimly lit roads, bright light emanating from high beams of oncoming vehicles and altered depth perception — they’re all obstacles to look out for.

National data estimates that 50% of traffic deaths occur at night, despite spending only quarter of our time driving at night. Additionally, an estimated 38,800 people were involved in fatal accidents. These stats underscore that when driving at night you should take a few precautions with your vehicle.

Some simple safety tips go a long way: Dim your dashboard lights, adjust your headlights (and don’t stare at oncoming ones), clean and adjust side mirrors and learn to spot the retinas of other drivers and animals.

You should also take care of your eyes. The American Optometric Association recommends checkups every three years for people under 40, every two years if you’re under 60 and every year from then on.

Perhaps in the future, we’ll get self-driving cars that can navigate at all hours of the day. Until then, here are seven technologies to help humans drive safer when taking a late night drive. Check out our animated infographic that illustrates this emerging tech. 

Digital lighting matrix

For several years, Audi has been a leading pioneer for headlight development. One of the manufacturer’s strongest creations? Digital Matrix LED lighting, which uses a front-facing camera and zillions of microscopic mirrors on a single chip to reflect an LED light.

This method can better control the shape, direction and brightness level of lights. Drivers can illuminate the road ahead of them but aim a brighter light at lane lines to help keep them in the right spot.

Additionally, digital matrix lighting reduces the glare of the road and offers better visibility around curves. Navigating around a dark road can be dangerous. Knowing what’s coming ahead of time is a major benefit and can help to avoid the glare of oncoming headlights.

Nanoparticle contacts and injections

How would you like to have superhuman vision on the road? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have developed a method for giving mice the ability to see infrared light.

Humans can’t normally see this part of the visible spectrum, so it’s a pretty cool way to enhance your nighttime view — as long as you don’t mind a few injections to the eyeballs (or wearing contacts).

Military troops will soon adopt this type of technology, providing soldiers with stronger vision during nighttime operations.

On the road, your overall scope of view will improve. Additionally, you’ll see things more clearly and with more time to react and make a stop or turn.

AR night vision

Night vision is also getting an upgrade in the form of AR night vision goggles. Military will use these goggles to enhance the ability to see faces from further away, and drivers can experience plenty of benefits with them, too.

Eyewear like augmented reality goggles can provide a boost to night driving. You’ll have a stronger recognition of living beings in the road. If another car is coming your way or a wild animal decides now is the perfect time to cross the street, you’ll be alerted more quickly.

Glasses add another reflective surface between your eyes and the road. If you have to wear them normally, choose prescription lenses with anti-reflective coating.

High-tech sensors in autonomous cars

Autonomous cars already use sensors, such as video cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and LiDAR (light detection and ranging). However, these sensors all provide their own challenges; LiDAR, for example, can create 3D images of people and street signs, but is limited by distance and weather.

These limitations are why sensor fusion is so important. Sensor fusion, or the ability to stitch together visual inputs, allows for a more fully formed picture for the computer to interpret. For example, if a camera is suggesting there’s no pedestrian on the side of the road, but the radar senses something is there, sensor fusion has to make a decision on whether to brake or not.

These sensors work in tandem and are continuing to improve the autonomous driving experience. They’re helpful even if oncoming cars are only using low beams or a pedestrian is wearing darker clothing.

The paint of your car may factor in, too. LiDAR sensors can work with other sensors to provide multi-spectral capabilities, which will help with light reflectivity and make the road more visible at night.

Cars without windshields

Have you ever been driving on a clear evening and still found it hard to see out your windshield, side windows or mirrors? Don’t try to wipe off any streaks with your hands — the oils from our skin smears and causes light to glare. Instead, use a newspaper or microfiber cloth to get rid of those streaks.

Or, even better: Abandon windshields altogether.

Yep, windshield-less cars are an actual possibility. McLaren unveiled its open-top Elva supercar in 2019, introducing the Active Air Management System (AAMS). This system directs air out of the car’s hood and up above the cabin, developing a virtual windshield in the process. The Elva is a speedy ride, too, going from zero to 124 miles per hour in just 6.7 seconds.

No windshield and windows mean you’ll never again have to worry about streaks or glare. After all, you can’t clean what’s not there. With air serving as the de facto windshield, you’re reducing an obstacle on the road.

Geofencing

If you’ve cashed in a coupon at a specific location of a store, you’ve experienced geofencing. A coupon for a Texas-based location of a chain restaurant won’t work at the same chain in California. The company uses GPS, or cellular data, to create a virtual “fence,” triggering a pre-programmed action.

In this case, the company enables geofencing to ensure only people at a certain location use the coupon. But that’s simply one way businesses can use the technology.

For example, in the shipping industry, geofencing keeps tabs on vehicles, tracking and controlling a fleet of trucks with cargo. And it may be coming to cars, too.

Sweden began experimenting with geofencing on city buses and trucks. While the primary focus is on speed, it could theoretically be used to control traffic flow. It would add to driving safety by automatically controlling speed around tight corners or areas of low visibility.

When driving at night, it’s easy to let our eyes get distracted by a bright road sign or oncoming headlights. That distraction impacts our reaction time and affects our speed. With geofencing in play, our vehicles could more safely react if speed needed to be adjusted.

Retroreflective material

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, road signs are in effect 24 hours a day. But at night, these signs can be harder to see for both drivers and pedestrians. A study from the University of Buffalo believes a thin film could be the solution for making these signs more visible.

Here’s how it works: The film is made up of polymer microspheres and laid down on transparent tape. When white light hits the film at night, some viewers will see one stable color reflected back. Others will see changing colors, depending on the angle of observation and if the light source is moving.

These color-changing road signs and reflective triangles could call attention to important information about traffic, construction or accidents. Drivers could plan their next move more effectively, while pedestrians could be alerted to upcoming traffic situations, even if they aren’t paying full attention. The colors would change more rapidly if a car is going faster, providing a strong indication of what’s happening.

Infographic

The ZebraResource Center