GERMANY/UK: BMW adds night vision and high beam assistant to options list

By just-auto.com editorial team | 22 July 2005

BMW is adding night vision and high-beam assistant to its options list from September.

Night Vision uses a special thermal imaging camera to 'illuminate' pedestrians, animals or any objects emitting heat up to 300 metres ahead of the car. Infrared technology generates a clear image of the road ahead on the iDrive screen and the system is particularly effective on long stretches of unlit road or motorway.

Bi-xenon headlamps already illuminate the road 150 metres ahead, but Night Vision is claimed to offer the driver a significantly longer range of vision.

High-beam assistant automatically sets the bi-xenon headlights to the optimum range and brightness depending on other traffic movements. A sensor at the front of the car detects any oncoming exterior light source, allowing the car to automatically switch between high and low beam for the best level of illumination.

The car's headlights will automatically dip when it detects street lamps (on entering built-up areas) or even an oncoming cyclist, then return to full beam when no light source is detectable.

Both safety innovations have been introduced following widespread research showing the inherent dangers posed by poorly lit roads or busy highways.

German road safety research has shown that approximately 50% of serious accidents are caused as a result of the driver not having enough information about the road ahead to take avoiding action. The same research has also shown that, while 75% of all driving is done during daylight hours, more than 50% of all fatal accidents happen during the hours of darkness. Similar accident figures have been found in US studies.

When developing BMW's night vision system, engineers considered two types of imaging cameras on the market - near infrared (NIR) and far infrared (FIR). NIR uses a source of infrared light and an infrared camera mounted on the front of the car. Any infrared light reflected from objects is collected by the camera and then processed into an on-screen image. FIR on the other hand uses a thermal imaging camera to directly register heat radiated from objects with an image then being displayed on-screen.

After a process of evaluation FIR was considered superior. Since there was no need for another light source to be projected from the car fewer components are used. FIR also had a greater area of coverage and, unlike NIR, couldn't be confused by the lights of oncoming vehicles, traffic lights or road signs with their strong reflective qualities.

Night vision is activated by a button alongside the headlight switch. An option in the iDrive menu allows the driver to select brightness and contrast while choosing between a full screen or split screen display.

High-beam assistant was developed after research showed that high beam headlights could, and arguably should, be used in approximately 75% more occasions than they currently are. Further studies highlighted that drivers who do switch to high beam often fail to deactivate it in time and, consequently, dazzle other road users. The system uses a light-seeking camera located in the rear view mirror housing to monitor the road for up to 1,000 metres ahead.

To activate high-beam assistant the driver need only turn the headlight switch to the automatic position and leave the high beam/low beam headlight stalk pushed forward to high. A light in the instrument binnacle tells the driver it is operational.

The system is supplied by US-based auto-dim mirror specialist Gentex Corp.

BMW to offer Gentex SmartBeam