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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Cars which see in the dark
Car headlights BBC
Night vision technology could soon be added to cars
Few people actually enjoy driving at night - especially on unlit roads where dipped headlights reveal little and full beams can dazzle other motorists.

But even 10 years ago, in the Gulf war, military drivers were using night vision goggles to speed across the Iraqi desert in total darkness.

Soon the technology will be available in cars - though instead of more basic image intensification systems, where hotter objects glow brighter, developers are working on full infrared imaging, which picks up light not visible to the human eye.

Engineers at Thales Optronics have fitted a Jaguar with a pair of infrared headlights, and a video camera which can see objects lit up in that part of the spectrum.

The image is projected on to a Perspex screen between the windscreen and the driver.

Night vision

In a demonstration for the BBC, the car was driven along a dark test track with dipped headlights. It was impossible to see a man crossing the road ahead.

But, when the night vision system was switched on, he became clearly visible. The car could even be driven in complete darkness, with no headlights at all.

Cars using the technology could even be driven without headlights
In fact, some models produced by the American car manufacturer Cadillac already have limited night vision systems using thermal imaging, but they require the driver to look away at a separate display.

The British system is essentially an overlaid "head-up display", similar to those used in jet fighters.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) has welcomed the development of night vision, but has reservations. Its road safety experts would want to see tests to examine how drivers react to the new equipment.

In particular, Rospa is concerned that better night vision would encourage motorists to drive faster at night.

Jaguar and Ford are among many car manufacturers watching the trials closely. If they do install the system in future, it is likely to be an expensive extra.

But scientists point to other technology developed from military systems, such as GPS satellite navigation, which has come down in price and is now increasingly popular.

They say night vision will one day be standard in the family car.

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