American electronics manufacturer Texas Instruments is perhaps best known to the public for its calculators which have long been a staple in U.S. classrooms. The Dallas-based corporation now has its sights set on revolutionizing how car headlights work in an attempt to make the use of high beams safer and less intrusive to other drivers. At this year’s CES tech show in Las Vegas, TI showed off a new headlight system known as an adaptive driving beam or ADB, which allows headlights to respond to their environment in real time. While the technology could potentially save lives, archaic traffic regulations could block its use on U.S. roads.
TI’s new ADB technology features an integrated system combining an extremely powerful microprocessor chip and a unique headlight design which features millions of LED pixels which are all individually controlled. The chip controlling the headlights can automatically turn these pixels on and off in response to the environment around it, turning off the specific pixels which might blind oncoming drivers, for instance. This could allow drivers to leave their high beams on when other cars approach without being a nuisance and open the doors for drivers with night vision problems to safely drive at night.
The adaptive driving beam technology also has some other intriguing uses. The pixels in the headlights could be configured to project various symbols or images onto the roadway ahead of cars, warning drivers of oncoming dangers or signaling turns in response to in-car navigation systems. In a press release, TI says this on-road projection can “enhance communication between drivers, pedestrians and other vehicles and provide customers with a way to address future communication requirements needed for autonomous and self-driving vehicle systems.” Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the system might never see use on U.S. roads.
Adaptive driving beam technology has been found to save lives in other countries where ADB systems are legal, but the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently prohibits the use of such headlight technology. The NHTSA has not revised its headlight regulations since 1960, meaning many new technologies still haven’t been put to use on U.S. roads. For its part, the agency currently stands by its assessment that these hi-tech headlights are not yet responsive enough to ensure they won’t endanger other drivers. Is this a case of government stifling innovation, or keeping a potentially dangerous technology off of the roads?