DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. next month plans to unveil the latest twist in adaptive lighting -- an electronic system that helps drivers see around curves at night.
While Lexus already offers several vehicles with adaptive lighting, they use a mechanical system to pivot the headlights a few degrees. The concept has roots stretching back at least to the 1946 Tucker Torpedo.
But Ford engineers believe they can get the job done without the mechanical complexity. The automaker says it is close to perfecting a system that throws light around corners electronically based on the position of the steering wheel and the vehicle's speed.
The system, to be shown on a Lincoln concept car next month at the Detroit auto show, could be in production in the next 36 months, says Mahendra Dassanayake, a Ford senior technical specialist who developed the system.
Instead of just one headlight on each side of the car, Ford has developed a light cluster that takes up about the same space as a conventional light assembly. The cluster has light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The main headlight throws light in front of the car as usual.
But when the driver turns the steering wheel, sensors turn on additional lights in the cluster. Those lights illuminate the sides of roads and around corners.
Because there are no moving parts, Ford's system is easier to manufacture and repairs are simpler, Dassanayake said. He would not say if it costs less than a mechanical system but said the cost would not keep it from being produced.
"This is the next big thing, moving the light beam without moving the lamp assembly," Dassanayake said.
Once Ford engineers are satisfied that the system is dependable, they must win approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation before it can be put in production.
Rules outline how many light sources can be in a lamp assembly and what their function must be. Even the number of switches to the light are regulated, Dassanayake said.
"If you look at a complete LED headlamp, there may be regulatory things we have to overcome. I keep saying we have to be proactive in bringing regulatory changes as fast as the technology can change. The regulatory world is not moving as fast as we would like."
Dassanayake said he has been working on the system since 2003.
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