Automotive night vision

Automotive night vision

An automotive night vision system is a system to increase a vehicle driver's perception and seeing distance in darkness or poor weather beyond the reach of the vehicle's headlights. They are currently offered as optional equipment on certain premium vehicles.


Display type

  • instrument cluster using a high resolution liquid-crystal display (LCD), newest type
  • navigation system or information screen, least expensive and with display's location further away from driver's field of vision (used exclusively by BMW, and the W212 E-class)
  • windshield via head-up display, earliest type, dimmer knob can reduce brightness, display nearest to driver's line of sight

There are two types of systems, either passive or active systems, both have advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other.[1][2][3]

Active systems

There are two kinds of active systems gated and non- gated. The gated system uses a pulser light source and a synchronized camera that enable long ranges (250m) and high performance at rain and snow. Active systems use an infrared light source built into the car to illuminate the road ahead with light that is invisible to humans.

  • Pros: higher resolution image, superior picture of inanimate objects, works better in warmer conditions, smaller sensor can be mounted to rearview mirror.
  • Cons: does not work as well in fog or rain, lower contrast for animals, shorter range of 150-200 meters or 500-650 feet


In late-2005, Mercedes-Benz introduced their Night View Assist system on the redesigned S-class. It was the first system to use the instrument cluster's LCD as a display. In 2009, Mercedes added a pedestrian detection function calling the revised system Night View Assist Plus and offered it on the redesigned E-class and refreshed S-class, however, the E-class uses the navigation screen's display.


Night View system on the 2003 Lexus LX 470

In 2002, Toyota introduced the first production automotive active night vision system or Night View on the Lexus LX 470 and Landcruiser Cygnus. This system uses the headlight projectors emitting near infrared light aimed like the car's highbeam headlights and a CCD camera then captures that reflected radiation, this signal is then processed by computer which produces a black-and-white image which is projected on the lower section of the windshield.[4][5] In 2008 Toyota added a feature to the Crown Hybrid which highlights pedestrians and presents them in a box on an LCD display in front of the driver, this was the first pedestrian detection feature for an active system.[6]

Passive systems

Passive systems do not use an infrared light source, instead they capture thermal radiation already emitted by the objects, using a thermographic camera.

  • Pros: greater range of about 300 meters or 1,000 feet, higher contrast for living objects[1]
  • Cons: grainy, lower resolution image, works poorly in warmer weather conditions, larger sensor


The Night Vision Assistant was introduced in 2010 on the Audi A8. It uses a thermal imaging camera behind the four rings at the front of the car which can "see" 300 meters (984 ft) ahead. The display in the instrument cluster highlights humans with yellow markings. More importantly, the computer can determine if the person on the road moves in a way that could lead to a collision with the car. In that case the pedestrian is being marked in red color and the driver of the car receives an audible warning.[7]


In fall 2005, BMW introduced BMW Night Vision on the 7-series. This system processes far infrared radiation, which minimizes non-essential information placing a greater emphasis on pedestrians and animals, allows for a range of 300 meters or nearly 1,000 feet, and avoids "dazzle" from headlights, road lights and similar intense light sources.[8] In the fall of 2008, on the redesigned 7-series, BMW added a pedestrian detection system which flashes a caution symbol on the navigation/information screen and head-up-display when it detects pedestrians.[9]

General Motors

In 2000, General Motors introduced Night Vision on the Cadillac Deville which became the first vehicle sold with such a system, however it was discontinued in 2004.[10] This system was developed with Raytheon and worked by using an infrared sensing camera mounted behind the vehicle's grille. Infrared radiation is picked up by the sensor, processed by computer and then displayed on the windshield using a head-up display. Information is displayed as a black and white image with warmer objects in white, while cooler objects appear black.[11][12][13]


In the fall of 2004, Honda introduced the redesigned Legend with an optional Intelligent Night Vision system. This system detected far infrared radiation and was also the first system to offer pedestrian detection. The pedestrian detection feature alerted the driver with an audio warning and visually enclosed the pedestrian in a box on the display which was presented via head-up display.[14][15]




1 includes pedestrian detection

See also


  1. ^ a b Jones, Willie D. (March 2006). "Safer Driving in The Dead of Night". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  2. ^ "Night vision enhancement systems". I-CAR Advantage Online. 2006-05-15. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  3. ^ Austin, Ian (October 31, 2005). "Illuminating Road Hazards That Lurk Beyond Lights". New York TImes. 
  4. ^ Romans, Brent (2002-10-31). "Follow-Up Test: 2003 Lexus LX 470". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  5. ^ "Safety Presentation". Toyota.Co.Jp. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  6. ^ Korzeniewski, Jeremy (2008-05-31). "Toyota introduces Night View on Japanese Crown Hybrid — Autoblog Green". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  7. ^ "The new Audi A8". Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  8. ^ "BMW Night Vision Available in the 5 and 6 Series as of March". 2006-01-30. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  9. ^ "Improved Night-Vision for next 2009 BMW 7-series". 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  10. ^ Keegan, Walter J (2004-11-17). "Cadillac kills passive night-vision system — Autoblog". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  11. ^ Romans, Brent (1999-01-01). "Full Test: 2000 Cadillac DeVille DTS". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  12. ^ Vale, Frank (2006-12-13). "21st-Cadillac Night Vision". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  13. ^ "Cadillac Introduces "Night Vision" Technology" (Press release). GM. January 16, 2000. 
  14. ^ "Honda Develops World’s First Intelligent Night Vision System Able to Detect Pedestrians and Provide Driver Cautions" (Press release). 2004-08-24. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  15. ^ "Honda Worldwide | Intelligent Night Vision". Retrieved 2009-12-08. 

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