Future SmartBeam to automate high-beam with continuously
variable low beams
Auto-dimming mirrors, rear-view camera and SmartBeam
To become standard in a growing number of economic cars
standard high-beam pattern. Top right: the original
SmartBeam switches automatically between high and low
beams depending on traffic ahead. Bottom left:
SmartBeam can now produce continuously variable low beams
by extending and contracting the low beam pattern. Bottom
right: SmartBeam can also produce
"block-out" or "glare-free" zones
around surrounding traffic for future
"constant-on" high-beam headlamps, without
any switching between high or low beams, as the device
adjusts the beams patterns constantly and in real-time.
Graphics: Gentex Corp.
We often associate active safety with as a set of
electronic controls aimed at preventing a car from skidding - in difficult
starting, braking, over- or under-steering situations - or anticipating
the driver's needs, by raising the brakes circuit pressure for an expected
braking, when the right foot is lifted suddenly from the gas pedal for
instance, or by activating the brakes very slightly and regularly (in wet
conditions) to keep the discs (rotors) dry.
Of course, many other technical innovations can be
added, such as good navigation and voice-controlled communication systems,
head-up displays and so on.
The original SmartBeam
turns on a vehicle's high beams when it's dark enough and
no other vehicles are present, offering a better night
vision without the repetitive switching between high and
low beams. It reverts to low-beams upon detecting either
the headlamps (oncoming) or tail lamps (preceding) of
However, some active safety equipment are so logical or
even too obvious to get their deserved position in the list. This is the
case of the visibility-extending technologies, and specifically, adaptive
SmartBeam lightings and auto-dimming rear-view mirrors (they contain
electrochromic technology to darken automatically and in proportion to the
amount of headlight glare from trailing vehicle headlamps).
Why are they so important? Well, if the anti-skid
controls assist the driver to avoid an accident from happening,
visibility- extending devices allow the driver to anticipate and detect
many potential dangers well before he or she might need the ESP or ABS to
The technical innovations that are taking place in
these devices - covering even invisible angles - are getting increasingly
integrated within the electronic network of our cars.
Inside mirrors which have been evolving over the last
few decades with the auto-dimming feature, inside first, then on the
outside mirrors, are extending now into a gradual integration with
electronically controlled adjustable headlamps, electronic compass,
automatic wipers activation, blind-angles and rear-view cameras and so on.
Having been a luxury item over the last two decades,
the auto-dimming inside mirror is becoming a standard equipment in a growing
number of cars, not simply luxury ones, but even small mainstreams
models such as the Toyota iQ,
Yaris, Urban Cruiser, or compact ones such as the Honda Civic and
others. The same might be said in a not too distant future about the
adaptive lighting systems.
assistance in night driving
The SmartBeam (High-Beam
Headlamp Assist) technology uses a miniature
camera-on-a-chip designed to automatically
switch a vehicle's headlamps between low and high
beams according to traffic conditions.
The system is designed to
maximize a vehicle's forward lighting by the
automatic selection of the high beams when
possible, eliminating the repetitive task of
turning the high beams on and off.
The original SmartBeam
automatically turns on a vehicle's high beams when
it's dark enough and no other vehicles are
present. The system automatically reverts the
headlamps to their low-beam state upon detecting
either the headlamps (oncoming traffic) or tail
lamps (preceding) of other vehicles.
The flexibility of SmartBeam
allows it to work with virtually any type of
headlamp, including Xenon, LED and conventional
halogen systems (still representing about 85
percent of the global headlamp market) that
either fade between low and high beams or switch
SmartBeam's success helped
establish a whole new category of adaptive
lighting technologies (see opposite text and
corresponding graphic). The product's debut marked
the first time a camera system was used to
optimize forward lighting. Today, a number of
auto suppliers offer camera-based headlamp assist
features, and virtually every major automaker in
Europe has announced plans for launching adaptive
lighting technologies on new vehicles (see also Next
SmartBeam generations section).
Gentex has been shipping its
SmartBeam feature to various automakers since
2004, with more than a million of these imager
systems operating on 24 different vehicle models
throughout Europe and North America, with
additional product launches planned for later this
year, making the company a leading provider of
automotive-grade camera-based active safety
The expansion of these advanced safety technologies
into mainstream models is confirmed by the recent announcement of the
Gentex Corporation, a leading supplier of automatic-dimming rear-view
mirrors to the automotive industry, that it has already shipped its
one-millionth SmartBeam High-Beam Assist system,
and expanded the SmartBeam product line to include new levels of
camera-based forward-lighting functionality.
As a result of ongoing imager and software improvement
initiatives, today's SmartBeam is also capable of controlling the future
generations of headlamp systems.
For instance, the latest version of SmartBeam not only
automates high- and low-beam switching, but also can be used to produce
continuously variable low-beams. Many cars today come equipped with
high-intensity discharge headlamps that use self-levelling systems to
automatically adjust the headlamps according to cargo load and road
inclination. SmartBeam communicates with these dynamic-levelling systems
to raise and lower the low beams in order to maximize forward lighting
according to surrounding traffic conditions. This continuously variable
system can also help generate unique low-beam patterns for optimal forward
illumination in towns or on hills, motorways and rural roads.
SmartBeam can also be used to
control "constant ON" (see above
and below graphics) high beams systems that require next-generation
headlamp hardware, which is currently being developed by various headlamp
For these future systems, SmartBeam would generate
"block-out" or "glare-free" (opposite
and above SmartBeam graphics)
zones around oncoming and preceding traffic, allowing light to be cast around
surrounding traffic for maximum forward lighting.
"This new SmartBeam functionality is based on
next-generation imagers" said Gentex Senior Vice President Enoch Jen.
"We have already been awarded a future vehicle program that uses
SmartBeam to not only automate high-beam usage but also produce
continuously variable low beams."
As light sensing and control features have been central
in Gentex experience, since its inception in 1974, the Michigan-based
company integrates its SmartBeam system in an
automatic-dimming rear-view mirror. Unlike camera systems mounted directly
to the windscreen - and packaged specifically for every vehicle -
SmartBeam resides in the mirror assembly, allowing a single packaging
solution to function across vehicle platforms. Because the camera is
"off glass," it minimizes potential warranty issues stemming
from windscreen replacement and improperly re-installed or misaimed
/ Performance equation
Gentex says that lower cost is another advantage of its
systems, as it develops and manufactures its own custom-designed,
automotive-grade imagers. Instead of purchasing relatively expensive,
multi-purpose camera systems that include unnecessary functionality,
Gentex designs SmartBeam with the specific performance necessary to
achieve the desired application intent. The management of the entire
system - imager, software and packaging - allows it to offer a highly
performing product at a lower total system cost. System improvements and
adaptations are also less complicated and can be made more rapidly.
On the other hand, increased demand for new and
emerging driver-assist safety features is creating an engineering dilemma
How to effectively integrate these features into the
vehicle when collectively they require a myriad of sensors, imagers and
vision systems - all of which need to be affixed on or near the
using Gentex technology
Gentex is shipping auto-dimming
interior rear-view mirrors (they darken
automatically in response to the headlamp glare of
rearward-approaching vehicles) for Toyota's new
small cars such as the Urban
Cruiser, the iQ
and the new generation Yaris. The iQ is
sold in Europe and Japan, and the Yaris is
available in Europe and the Middle East.
While the new iQ comes in just
two trim levels (iQ and iQ2), the Gentex interior
auto-dimming mirror comes as standard on the
iQ2. The Yaris is the first subcompact Toyota to
offer the auto-dimming mirror feature as standard
equipment on the upper trim levels in most
Gentex ships also its Rear
Camera Display (RCD) Mirror and base
auto-dimming mirrors for the compact Toyota RAV4
compact sport utility vehicle (SUV).
The auto-dimming interior
mirror with RCD
Mirror is available as a stand-alone option on
the Sport and Limited RAV4 trim levels in North
America and is standard on the RAV4X in Europe.
The base interior auto-dimming mirror is available
on vehicles sold in Europe and Asia.
At Toyota also, but on a higher
level, Gentex started shipping last month a number
of different auto-dimming mirror variations for
the 2010 Lexus RX. The Gentex SmartBeam
Mirror are also available on the new luxury
utility vehicle in North America, Europe, Japan,
China and other markets.
In addition to the base
interior auto-dimming mirror, the new RX offers
Gentex driver- and passenger-side exterior
auto-dimming mirrors; a compass utilizing the
Gentex Z-Nav technology, a highly-accurate sensor
that is designed to determine the vehicle's
directional heading; Automatic High-Beam (which
Gentex markets as SmartBeam);
and the RCD Mirror as stand-alone options or as
part of multiple RX packages. The RCD Mirror
option is available on the RX model on a global
basis, and the SmartBeam option is available on
the RX models in North America.
Earlier this year, Gentex
Corporation was recognized by Toyota as one of
five companies to win an "Excellent
Award" in the "Technology" category
for its SmartBeam product
that also launched on the Camry-based Venza
Gentex also supplies
automatic-dimming rear-view mirrors for the Honda
Civic sold in the United Kingdom, Germany and
other European Union countries, as well as the
Rear Camera Display (RCD) Mirror fitted to several
Hyundai and Kia vehicles with other
German brands using Gentex
products include BMW, Mercedes-Benz and
An auto-dimming mirror with
compass and universal garage door opener is
available as part of a "premium" package
on the BMW 1 Series in the U.S. market. The
1 Series and the Z4 sold in Europe offer
Gentex's SmartBeam High-Beam Headlamp Assist
technology as part of an "Innovation
Package" or as an option in combination with
xenon lights and rain sensors. BMW refers to SmartBeam
as High-Beam Assist, or the German translation,
For the Mercedes-Benz GLK
compact sports utility vehicle (SUV), Gentex is
shipping fully featured auto-dimming rear-view
mirrors, as optional equipment.
Interior auto-dimming mirrors
on the GLK are available with varying options
including the Gentex compass, a universal garage
door opener, microphones, and map-lights. A
driver-side exterior auto-dimming mirror is also
At Volkswagen, the VW Passat
CC features Gentex auto-dimming interior and
exterior rear-view mirrors. The Passat CC features
an interior auto-dimming mirror as standard
equipment and offers a driver-side exterior mirror
as part of an optional package.
Few days ago, Gentex announced
also that it is supplying auto-dimming mirrors
with Automatic High-Beam Assist (SmartBeam)
feature for the 2010 Range Rover, which
will be available worldwide beginning this summer.
In addition to interior auto-dimming mirrors, both
driver and passenger exterior auto-dimming mirrors
will be standard equipment on the 2010 Range
As optional content, the
interior mirror features Gentex's SmartBeam
High-Beam Headlamp Assist feature, and side
blind zone monitor technology is displayed in
the exterior rear-view mirrors. "Though Range
Rover has featured Gentex technology for many
years, this is the first time the Range Rover
offers Automatic High-Beam Assist," said
Enoch Jen, Gentex Senior Vice President..
Camera Display (RCD) Mirror
The Rear Camera Display (RCD)
Mirror contains a liquid crystal display (LCD) and
is connected to a video camera mounted at the rear
of the vehicle to transmit the image from behind
while backing up.
When the driver shifts the gear
selector to the reverse position, a 2.4-inch LCD
display appears automatically through the
auto-dimming mirror's reflective surface, showing
what is actually behind the car or the truck.
The rear view display
disappears when the vehicle is shifted into any
other gear position.
The capability for the display
to appear through the mirror's surface is made
possible by Gentex's "transflective"
coating and lighting techniques, which result in a
bright, high-resolution colour image.
Then, for any given vehicle in development, there are
several suppliers providing multiple sensors that often need to meet
diverse performance specifications. In addition, all of these sensors need
to fit on the same windscreen without impeding driver vision.
Gentex considers this growing windscreen management
challenge as a strong point for its business, as for over 25 years, nearly
every product and feature it has shipped has been affixed to the
windscreen and integrated into high-tech automatic-dimming rear-view
mirrors that come packaged today with technology like rear-view LCD
displays, hands-free microphones, compass transducers, garage door
openers, telematics components, rain sensors and vision systems that
control the headlamps.
The auto-dimming mirrors specialist says that over the
past few years, it has helped several automakers integrate various
features into their vehicles not only via the rear-view mirror, but also
by developing custom sensor clusters that reside on or near the
windscreen and are typically affixed to the rear-view mirror.
Enoch Jen adds: "It's not uncommon for a single
Gentex-designed cluster to house separate cameras for features
like lane departure warning and/or collision avoidance, as
well as individual sensors that operate the vehicle's headlamps,
door locks, wipers, defroster, compass, interior climate control and
built-in garage door openers."
That was the case with the new Volvo XC60
crossover. Gentex says that it helped Volvo Car Corporation engineer a
custom windscreen- and mirror-integrated sensor cluster that houses rain,
infrared and humidity sensors, a multipurpose camera, and components
related to Volvo's City Safety collision avoidance system. In
addition, Gentex supplies an interior auto-dimming mirror with compass and
humidity sensor features for the vehicle.
All of these advanced components need to reside on or
near the windscreen so that they're protected from the elements, yet have
a clear, unobstructed, wiper-swept view of the road and/or sky.
Gentex goes a step further with another (still unnamed)
European automaker, helping to design a custom package for integrating
rain, light and humidity sensors with a multipurpose camera,
automatic-dimming mirror and Gentex's SmartBeam High-Beam Assist.
"It's a complex engineering task because each
sensor cluster is vehicle-specific and comprised of multiple brackets,
covers, mounts and wire harnesses," continued Jen. "Gentex also
works to manage the different suppliers of the various sensors and
components to ensure that the system not only functions properly but also
meets relevant legal, styling, ergonomic and manufacturing concerns."
As all this technology gets more widespread and cheaper
to gradually reach the most modest cars, we may safely bet than in a not
too distant future, we could be writing the same about the infra-red night
vision equipment. They are still too expensive to be available for the
average middle to small car, but wasn't this the case of the auto-dimming
and adaptive lights until very recently?
In any case, and although very useful and helpful, the infra-red
night vision systems are and will probably remain a secondary feature
compared to what the modern headlights can bring in terms of clarity,
especially with the quick modulation of shape, direction and intensity.