A man on the side of the road changing a tire, a deer or dog darting into the street - all hazardous and potentially deadly confrontations for a driver at night whose sight is limited to what is illuminated by his headlights.
But the latest high-tech gizmo for an automobile, a "night vision" system, is designed to alert drivers to the hazards far beyond their low or high beams. General Motors Corp. is the first automaker to announce it will offer the system as an option on its DeVille Cadillacs starting with the 2000 model year.The system uses infrared technology to detect people or animals in the darkness or past the glare of an oncoming car's headlights, then puts those images in black and white on a TV-like small screen that is projected on the windshield.
Since the system is heat sensitive, it also would detect a person lurking in bushes as you pull your car up to your home.
"It's a supplementary system. You're going to be able to see three to five times farther down the road than with your low beams and three times farther than with your high beams," said John Smith, Cadillac's vice president and general manager.
Regular headlights allow a driver to see about 100 yards. With night vision, drivers should be able to see up to 500 yards, the length of about five football fields, making it much easier for instance to see a motorist changing that tire on the side of the road.
Images on the windshield "screen" resemble black-and-white photo negatives and are projected on the lower part of the driver's windshield in an area about 4 inches tall and 10 inches wide.
"You glance down, using it as a reference as you would the rear-view mirror," said Cadillac engineer Ed Zelner.
Automakers hope to sell the option as a big safety advantage.