Night Vision Systems — High On Safety, High In Price

April 3, 2010/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS DOWN THE ROAD BY HERB SHULDINER

Driving is most hazardous at night when headlights fail to pick up potential dangers lurking in the roadway. One of the most advanced safety technologies on the market — night vision enhancement systems — remains out of reach for most motorists. Pricey night vision systems have remained beyond the budgets of most motorists.
At present, only a few luxury models offer a night vision enhancing system as optional, including the BMW 5 Series and 7 Series models, the new Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Audi A8. All are available with Autoliv’s far-infrared thermal imaging system that increases visibility down the road. Mercedes-Benz V-12 models offer Bosch’s near-infrared night vision system as standard equipment. Several other Mercedes models offer Bosch night vision as an option, including the new 2011 E-Class.
About 200,000 vehicles worldwide currently offer night vision says Stuart Klapper, managing director, Autoliv Electronics Night Vision of Goleta, Calif.
Klapper predicts, however, the market for the active safety system is going to triple by 2014 as lower-priced vehicles begin to offer night vision.
Night vision illuminates the road up to three times the distance provided by conventional low-beam headlights. The current generation of night vision from Autoliv and Bosch has enhanced ability to illuminate pedestrians who might normally be invisible because of the glare from oncoming headlights.
Selling night vision in the U.S. has been a bumpy ride since Cadillac introduced it as an option in model-year-2000 and dropped it after model-year-2005, selling only a minuscule 15,000 units in total. General Motors’ Hummer H1 and H2 units offered a dealer-installed Raytheon night vision option from 2003 to 2006.
It’s an altogether different situation in Germany, however, where the take rate is 40 percent on models that offer a night vision as an option. In China, it’s even higher, Klapper says.
At present, BMW 7 Series and 5 Series models offer the Autoliv night vision system as a $2,600 option. The Rolls-Royce Ghost also offers night vision as part of a $10,000 driver assistance systems package. The Autoliv system will be optional in the forthcoming 2011 Audi A8, but the price has not yet been announced.
Mercedes-Benz, which uses the Night View Assist Plus near-infrared system it sources from Bosch, sells it as standard equipment on cars equipped with V-12 engines: S600, S65, CL65 and CL600. It is a $1,740 option on the S550, S400 and S63. Night vision is included in a $3,430 option package for the CL550 and as a stand-alone option ($2,160) in the CL63. Night View Assist Plus is optionally available in the current 2010 E350 sedan and wagon and also in the BlueTEC diesel E550 and E63 at $1,750.
Both the Autoliv and Bosch systems produce black and white images. Technical limitations currently preclude a color display because light in the infrared range prevents a camera from detecting natural color. “Artificial coloring would not be realistic,” a Bosch spokesperson says. “More work is needed to allow the use of color,” concurs Klapper of Autoliv. Klapper also says color night vision images can be confusing to a driver. — Herb Shuldiner, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010