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Supplement, Fall 1999

Off the Line

Seeing is Believing

by Monica Matthews

Children have the innate ability to know there are creatures lurking in the dark waiting for the perfect opportunity to make their move. Many parents are put through the nightly ritual of checking under the bed and looking in the closet for things unknown. Night lights and small lamps become the talisman of choice because with sight a child knows no harm can come to them. So, when do these childish ways evolve into adult logic? As soon as we get the license to drive!

The nighttime driver portrays a picture full of confidence; always in control and never unknowing. In fact, most drivers do not bother to change their driving habits as the sun goes down with the exception of turning on the headlights and the occasional use of the bright light switch. Many drivers would benefit from the long forgotten childish need to know what lies beyond the shadows of the line of vision.

Safety alone should be enough reason to alter nighttime driving. Accidents occur at night frequently because the driver was driving too fast and did not see the pending danger. Most of these incidents would surely have been avoidable had the driver simply been able to see what was in the outer limits. If the driver could see the deer crossing the road or the stalled car blocking his lane, he or she could avoid an accident.

Thankfully, there are adults who have not forgotten their childish ways and who have made their mark as design and development engineers working in the auto industry. Cadillac employs these types of devoted people who have developed technology that will change the way we see things at night.

Cadillac’s Night Vision system will soon be introduced to the market as an option on the 2000 Cadillac DeVille. More than just a system of brighter, highly-focused headlight beams, the Night Vision system works by thermal imaging using infrared technology. Cadillac has already received outstanding recognition for the inventive technology, which was selected for the “Best of What’s New” awards presented annually by Popular Science magazine last November. Night Vision was named the grand award winner in automotive technology.

Several corporations, along with the Cadillac division of General Motors, were involved with the development of the system including Raytheon Systems Company for the thermal imaging portion, Delphi’s Delco Electronics for the image projection system and Pilkington Libbey-Owens-Ford for the Head’s-Up-Display windshield.

The heart of the system is the thermal imaging camera from Raytheon, which is mounted in the front grill of the DeVille. The camera searches for heat sources using the infrared wavelength range of the light spectrum and then creates images of warm-bodied objects. The camera’s sensitivity to the heat will create clearer and brighter images for warmer objects and it is most sensitive to the heat range generated by warm blooded animals.

Once an image has been created it is transferred to the projector created by Delco electronics. The projector works like the Head’s-Up-Display (HUD) systems currently available in cars. The thermal image is projected onto the bottom of the windshield and appears in the lower periphery of the driver’s field of view. As with the current HUD systems, the image can be manually adjusted for light/dark intensity and vertical position. As a safety feature, the projection can only be turned on when the headlights are in use, but it can be turned off whenever it is not needed.

The HUD image on the windshield will appear to float about 7 feet in front of the driver. It is scaled to keep the objects seen through Night Vision in proportion with the driver’s normal vision through the windshield, much like the appearance of picture in a picture on a television. The image is in focus, but it has a rough appearance and will generally present a grainy black and white scene of the objects in the driver’s path. The windshield is processed like a HUD windshield to maintain primary optical resolution in the display area, thereby minimizing image distortion.

Cadillac wants its drivers to drive with confidence both night and day and is giving the consumers the ultimate night light. It’s not just the children who know there are dangerous things in the dark shadows, it’s also the Cadillac 2000 DeVille nighttime drivers who have been made into believers by seeing.

 Monica Matthews works in the Auto Glass Replacement Division of Pilkington Libbey-Owens-Ford in Toledo, OH, as a technical services specialist.


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