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Light Bulb Idea: Adaptive headlight technology could reduce pedestrian collisions, deaths

Ann Arbor, Michigan ⁠—  Adaptive headlight technology designed to alert pedestrians they are in the presence of a vehicle has the power to potentially reduce collision deaths, according to recent research from Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC).

The adaptive headlights studied by the Japanese OEM are designed to perform two actions to alert cyclists or pedestrians walking near the roadway. A bright box is projected onto the ground around the pedestrian or bicyclist⁠, both to get their attention and to flag their presence to the driver. An icon also appears on the ground, either in red or white, where the pedestrian can see. 

Adaptive headlights are a development feature combining multiple LEDs and computer chips, allowing vehicles to project multiple points and colours of light in addition to the wide beam that illuminates the road for the driver.

“It looks like an upside-down triangle with an exclamation point inside,” wrote Toyota’s CSRC.

 Some of the OEM’s most recent research⁠—conducted at the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driver Simulator⁠, which it called “one of the world’s best crash simulators”—evaluated which combinations of lights worked best to prevent “dangerous behaviour.” 

The Iowa facility has one of only two simulators for pedestrians and bicyclists in the world. Volunteer subjects stand in a darkened room surrounded by video screens that simulate traffic. Researchers recorded how they reacted to different traffic situations.

“At the start of the study, the research team looked at flashing lights first, then adding the icon. As the work progressed, it became clear doing things sequentially [and varying the sequence] didn’t help much,” wrote the CSRC.

“The bottom line is the simulator study showed that vehicles equipped with this kind of communicative adaptive headlights are promising and could reduce a large percentage of the pedestrian deaths under the right circumstances,” Rini Sherony, senior principal engineer at CSRC in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Mitigation measures like adaptive headlights could be a building block along with automatic emergency braking to reverse the trend of pedestrian fatalities.”

Of course, such changes add an array of complexities to already challenging headlight repairs. Toyota did not specify the details of the technology, nor any plans to incorporate it in upcoming models. 

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