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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. The original SmartBeam switches automatically between high and low beams depending on traffic ahead.
SmartBeam can now produce continuously variable low beams by extending and contracting the low beam pattern. SmartBeam can also produce "block-out" or "glare-free" zones around surrounding traffic for future "constant-on" high-beam headlamps, without any need to switch on or off high or low beams, as the device adjusts to driving conditions constantly and in real-time.

Top left: 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.

APN

23 May 2009.

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 front car is hardly visible with the low beam.

The front car is clearly visible with the high beam.

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 other cars.

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 intervene.

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.

SmartBeam 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 on/off instantly.

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 systems.

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.

  Next SmartBeam generations

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 manufacturers.

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 cameras.

  Cost / 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.

  New driver-assist challenges

On the other hand, increased demand for new and emerging driver-assist safety features is creating an engineering dilemma for automakers.

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 windscreen?

Cars 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 markets.

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 and RCD 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 crossover.

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 mirror-integrated features.

German brands using Gentex products include BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.

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, Fernlichtassistent.

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 available.

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 Rover.

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..

Rear 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.

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