What Are Smart Headlights And Why You Might Want Them For Your Car

Smart headlights, or adaptive driving beam headlights (ADB), can automatically switch between high and low beams in accordance with road conditions and oncoming traffic.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

Over the years, automotive headlight designs have changed considerably. They have evolved from just a useful component to a major part of a vehicle’s overall operation and aesthetics. But despite the various upgrades, the basic functionality of these lighting systems hasn’t changed in decades.

Even the fancier options are limited to low beams, high beams, and in some instances, the ability to switch between the two. Now, due to the advent of smart headlights, everything is about to change. Smart headlights, also known as adaptive driving beam headlights (ADB), illuminate the road with a constant beam that is as bright as the traditional system’s high beam.

But instead of switching between two brightness settings, ADB systems use sensors and special light unit designs that alter the shape, brightness, and direction of the light. This is done with a shutter system that physically blocks part of the beam. Some use a matrix-style headlight unit that consists of multiple light sources which can be switched on or off as needed.

These smart headlights can also refer to light systems that change direction depending on the car’s steering inputs, according to Autoweek. While existing automatic high-beam headlights are great, they have several limitations. For instance, when driving in the suburbs with traffic and streetlights these systems can become confused and leave the bright beams on when they shouldn’t.

smart headlights

Or in some cases, they switch between low and high beams too quickly which is bad for visibility. But smart headlights solve these problems by reading surrounding conditions and applying light only when required. Their advanced sensors and detection systems also eliminate errant shifts in brightness.

Until recently, an outdated federal regulation meant that the system couldn’t be used in the United States – even though the technology is available in other countries. Thanks to the hard work from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a new ruling was passed which allows ADB headlights to be installed on new vehicles.

The announcement follows a requirement in last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directing NHTSA to make smart headlights legal, according to Consumer Reports. The change has been in the works since Toyota originally petitioned NHTSA to change the old federal regulations in 2013. Meanwhile, several vehicle manufacturers are currently trialing slightly different smart headlight technology which offers drivers a form of augmented reality.

These smart headlights use microarrays of light emitters to display graphics on the road. This includes information about navigation, pedestrian walkways, and speed limits. The technology could also warn motorists about weather changes like icy roads or fog.

Because the headlights are also connected to the navigation system, they can also display upcoming turns and project the width of the vehicle onto the road. This way folks can judge if their car will fit into a tight gap or parking space.

Mercedes, Audi, and Ford are among the carmakers that are working on the new smart headlights system, CNET reports. “What started as playing around with a projector light and a blank wall could take lighting technologies to a whole new level,” said Lars Junker, a Ford of Europe Features and Software expert.