Autonomous driving and the importance of the right light

City center, a busy street. A pedestrian wants to cross the road, and tries to make eye contact with the driver. But there’s no one behind the wheel. The passengers are sitting comfortably in the back seat. Nevertheless, the communication works. The fully automated vehicle recognizes the pedestrian, brakes independently, and projects a virtual crosswalk on the asphalt. That means the person can cross the lit street safely, after which the vehicle can go on its way.

Autonomous driving isn’t here yet, but the ZKW Group is already designing the instruments we’ll need to provide it. Visionary developers are already meeting the challenges of future headlight manufacturers today.

After all, even self-driving vehicles need the right light. Central topics include: Visibility for other road users and communication with the environment, in particular with pedestrians.

Light as a language between human and machine

A virtual crosswalk is just one of many potential applications. Others include indicating an intention to turn by projecting illuminated arrows on the street. Similar solutions can warn of opening doors, fast braking procedures, or indicate the car is backing up. This is how digital vehicles can communicate with analog pedestrians.

To find their own way, “robotic vehicles” won’t actually need streets to be lit up. Nevertheless, they still need to bring light into the darkness. After all, other road users definitely still need the autonomous cars to have the right kind of light. Headlights will brighten up the vehicle’s surroundings, reacting to different weather and lighting conditions.

The right lighting to make sure people see and understand cars – and to make the traffic of the future accident-free.

The role of light will be fundamentally different for self-driving vehicles than it is today: Vehicles no longer need to light up the street to provide good visibility. Instead, light will serve much more as communication with non-autonomous vehicles.

ZKW Group

How smart ZKW lights already are today

Pedestrians are hit four times more often at night as they are during the day.

Targeted lighting with marking lights by ZKW can prevent these accidents. Here’s how it works: A night vision system maps all moving objects in the field of view, even if the headlights haven’t hit them yet: Pedestrians, deer, etc. A clever image processing system determines the potential danger they pose. Then swiveling projection lenses are targeted towards the hazards, while modern LED lenses generate a sharp and limited beam of light to individually mark the object. This guides the driver’s vision to the hazard early on, instead of leaving it in the dark. That provides valuable extra reaction time to help avoid a collision.

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