Cadillac Offers Drivers New Vision
Optional Display Cuts Through Night
By Jim Bray
Cadillac division is blazing a trail through the darkest night with its
Night Vision option.
Currently offered as a $1995 enhancement to the DeVille, the technology is
an offshoot of the gadgets the US military used during the Gulf War to help
it carry out night missions against Saddam Hussein.
Nighttime driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
only accounts for about twenty-five per cent of total driving. Despite this,
its also when more than half of all traffic fatalities happen, so putting
Night Vision on the highways and byways is a wonderful and long overdue move
that could be a real life saver.
GM says that, depending on the road conditions, Night Vision lets you see
up to five times farther ahead than with your low beams. No figure was given
for comparing it with high beams, unfortunately, but a lot of urban driving
is done on low beam anyway, so Night Vision could be a lifesaver literally for
those scary times when kids run out from between parked cars at night.
Night Vision is also supposed to let you see through the glare of oncoming
The feature uses infrared or thermal imaging technology (which
senses heat emanating from an object) originally developed by Raytheon Systems
Company. Human beings, animals and moving vehicles (whose engines are warm)
stand out prominently in the display, thanks to their high thermal contrast
compared to objects in the background.
The virtual image thats projected onto the Heads Up
Display (HUD) looks similar to a black and white photographic negative,
with hotter objects appearing white with cooler objects in black.
The HUD, which appears as if projected onto an area near the front of the
cars hood, is a great idea because rather than having the image
appear on a screen on the dashboard, for example drivers dont
have to take their eyes off the road. In fact, the display supposedly stays
in your peripheral vision and can be glanced at without having to refocus your
eyes from their view of the road ahead.
And thats good.
The system can be set to activate at the turning of the ignition key, when
Twilight Sentinel photo cell senses that it's dark outside, or
when the headlights are turned on. Drivers can further control it
and adjust the intensity and vertical position of the Heads Up Displays
image with a switch on the instrument panel.
As the system warms up, you see a Night Vision logo in the HUD (which lets
you know its working). The logo remains on the screen until the gadgets
ready to rumble, whereupon its replaced by that black and white
negative thermal image.
Being able to see whats on the road ahead of you at night has obvious
advantages, but Night Vision can also be useful beyond the road ahead.
Sure, you can make out potential dangers outside the range of your headlights
on the Interstate but, closer to home, the thermal imaging could also let you
see someone hiding in your bushes as you turn into your driveway. This could
give you advance warning of a potentially dangerous situation on the home front;
if you have a cellular phone, you could alert the police before getting out
of the relative safety of your car.
Its such a terrific idea that it was named by Popular Science magazine
as Grand Winner in the automotive category of the magazines yearly Best
of Whats New list.
I havent seen the system in action yet, but in the grand scheme of things
it makes a lot of sense. The display doesnt even have to be particularly
realistic: as long as you can see that theres something unusual of which
you should be aware, the rest is gravy.
It could also be a boon to peeping Toms
Night Vision isnt meant to replace your keen eye on the road. It wont
turn a lousy driver into Michael Andretti, either, but the more help one has
Surprisingly, GM isnt planning to offer Night Vision on any 2001 models
other than the Cadillac DeVille but, if popular, it should only be a matter
of time before it
trickles down to other models.
Its a technology whose time has come and I hope it becomes an industry
standard before long.