Mercedes Digital Light puts a light show on the road

System project graphics onto the road to warn driver of safety issues

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Soon full-featured heads up displays, augmented reality, and intelligent lighting will all work together to provide drivers with the safest and most complete picture of the road ahead. Until then, it's one advance at a time, the latest being Digital Light for Mercedes-Maybach customers. Stuttgart engineers designed a small LED with more than a million micro-reflectors for each headlight. Hardware and software control the light pattern, and paint at least nine different graphics on the road in light to warn of safety issues ahead.

Digital Light evolved from the intelligent headlights demonstrated on the Mercedes Experimental Safety Vehicle in 2009 — the same ESF2009 that previewed rear belt-bag inflating seatbelts. Back then, the main beams were composed of 100 LEDs, and a brain controlled each LED to create a specific and occasionally complex lighting pattern. The new Digital Light works with all the cameras, sensors, and navigation information employed by an S-Class, and has increased resolution 10,000-fold to roughly HD quality, with a commensurate rise in the complexity of available patterns and representations.

Mercedes cites numerous benefits, one being a "virtually dazzle-free main beam," another being high beams that can selectively darken so as not to blind oncoming traffic or pedestrians. Some of the projected symbols include guide lines on the road representing the width of the sedan when navigating a narrow construction zone, an arrow pointing to a pedestrian either in or very near the road, a snowflake when the temperature drops below freezing, and a chevron placed on the center line or shoulder to warn a driver when he's leaving his lane or when there's someone in his blind spot.

Digital Light will first go into service with selective fleet customers for the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class this year. Considering the state of current U.S. auto regulations, we wouldn't expect to see it here for a number of years.

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