Case History #4: Laser-based Night Vision for Vehicles
Ford Research wanted to amplify on its laser-based lighting expertise in the area of automotive safety. Working with TIG Ford Research developed a night vision system based on infrared diode laser technology. The high power of diode lasers allowed a powerful “invisible high beam” to be projected down the road without disturbing other drivers. The narrow wavelength band allowed inexpensive CCD cameras fitted with narrow band filters to see the road ahead clearly without interfering glare from oncoming headlights and other light sources. The resulting system outperforms all other night vision concepts for road vehicle use.
The most obvious problem is to develop an optical system for the infrared headlight that is efficient, inexpensive and eye safe. Ford Research and TIG developed a number of unique optical concepts that met these objectives. The team worked closely with a laser safety consultant to assure eye safety. Since the optics were unique, the consultant’s work led to new language in the international regulations clarifying them for these configurations.
Other issues involved potential interference with other infrared night vision systems and a residual red glow. These were addressed with several proprietary solutions developed jointly by Ford and TIG. This technology is the subject of more than fourteen patents, a number of which Ford is licensing.
The Ford personnel involved with this work have received a number of internal awards. The technology has been widely publicized inside the company and been the subject of a number of press releases. [Jeff: Should we link to press clips?] A show car featuring this technology was awarded the Grand Prize in its category by the Popular Science “Best of What’s New Awards” in 2003.