Smart headlights could see through rain drops

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PITTSBURGH - Driving in rain and snow at night can be a real challenge, so researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are trying to make your ride a little safer and easier.

Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor got a look at a smart headlight that sees through the rain drops, improving visibility.

With a conventional headlight, the light reflects back off the raindrops, creating a blurry effect. It's even worse with snow.

With a smart headlight, the bright distracting streaks are gone.

"So this is our prototype for the smart headlight," said Robert Tamburo, a robotics scientist, who is working on the project at Carnegie Mellon University, as he showed me how the system works.

A camera takes pictures of the rain, and then sends that information to a computer. In a split second it analyzes where the drops are, and then tells the headlight not to shine light there.

"The standard headlight is kind-of a Catch-22. You need it to see while you're driving, but it also illuminates these falling precipitation particles," said Tamburo.

In the lab, scientists are able to predict where rain drops will fall, and are able to aim beams of light through them, improving visibility.

"So when a smart headlight system is running, the rain drops virtually disappear," said Tamburo.

Researchers have been able get the headlights to work at low speeds, and are confident they can get them to function at highway speeds as well, with this word of caution.

"You'll still have to be careful at night. It doesn't give you free reign to go as fast as you can while it's raining," said Tamburo.

The new system still needs to be tested in the real world. If all goes well, this technology will be available in the next few years.