Cars to come with their own cat's eyes

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The Independent Online
Cars will soon come with infra-red night vision systems able to pick out people and objects that drivers otherwise might not see, following research by Jaguar.

The new systems would use cameras sensitive to infrared radiation emitted from the front of the car. The enhanced image of the road and obstacles ahead, consisting of heat reflected from otherwise invisible objects, would then be projected in visible light onto the windscreen.

"Technically, we are really quite close to this," said Paul Mulvanny, principal technical specialist at Jaguar Engineering in Whitley. His division has already built and tested prototype systems and he reckons that working versions could be incorporated into cars by 2000.

"This could double the pedestrian detection range for the average driver, and quadruple it for older drivers," he said. Research has found that drivers try to avoid night journeys as they get older, partly because natural eye deterioration causes problems watching the road, especially with oncoming headlights. In such circumstances, drivers are often unable to see properly because they are temporarily blinded. The infrared system would compensate for this.

US insurance industry figures suggest that driving at night is disproportionately dangerous: 55 per cent of serious accidents occur at night, with just 28 per cent of daytime traffic volumes.

The biggest problem will be to get the cost low enough to make it economical to include as a standard fitting. The system requires special headlamps, an infrared camera, projector and specially-developed glass for the windscreen.

"It's a chicken-and-egg situation," said Mr Mulvanny. "If we could fit it for free, then everyone would want one. Our initial target is the sort of people who bought in-car navigation system. Those initially cost about pounds 3,000, but the cost has come down considerably. The same would apply here."