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BMW Night Vision and High-Beam Assist Introduced

Munich July 22, 2005

Driving in the dark is still one of the most strenuous driving situations and one which tends to present a greater risk. For years, BMW has developed innovative technologies that provide relief for drivers at night and contribute to improved road safety.

With the new driver assistance systems, BMW Night Vision and High-Beam Assist, BMW drivers will be able to drive with improved vision in twilight and at night. Critical situations can potentially be identified earlier than previously possible and one’s driving style adapted accordingly. In addition to helping provide increased driving safety, the task of driving is eased when potentially critical situations are detected early on and redundant operations avoided. The driver thus experiences a significant gain in comfort.

BMW Night Vision:
Innovative infrared technology for greater security in the dark.

Relief of the driver and active partner protection.

A thermal imaging camera covers an area up to 300 m in front of the vehicle. The image created on the central monitor displays objects more brilliantly, the greater the warmth registered by the camera. People (pedestrians at the edge of the road) and animals (wild animals crossing the road) would thus be the brightest areas of the image. BMW Night Vision offers customers particular benefits on routes through the country, along narrow roads, entrance drives and in dark underground garages, tangibly increasing safety when driving at night.

Based on comparative studies, BMW engineers have opted for the innovative Far Infrared (FIR) technology, since it best meets the goal of detecting people, animals and objects at night. Scientific studies also demonstrate that FIR is a more suitable technology than Near Infrared (NIR) for performing this function. In addition to the fundamental advantages of FIR, BMW has extended
the technology by adding other functional features. For example, the image section follows the course of the road (panning); objects in the distance can be enlarged (zoom). BMW Night Vision is activated/deactivated simply by means of a switch next to the light switch. BMW Night Vision is planned to be available in the BMW 7 Series (non-US versions) beginning in the fourth quarter of 2005.

High-Beam Assist:
More use of high beam on the road. Less distraction for the driver.

With High-Beam Assist, available beginning in September 2005 in the BMW 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series (non-US versions), a camera sensor integrated in the inside rear view mirror housing registers lighting activity on the road and automatically controls the activation and deactivation of the high beam. The system identifies the headlights and rear lights of vehicles, as well as the surrounding road lighting. The high beam switches on in the absence of vehicles on the road ahead or oncoming traffic, provided the road itself is not sufficiently illuminated. BMW is the first European premium manufacturer to offer such a system.

A scientific study in the US has shown that the high beam is used very rarely, although such use is possible, even desirable, in many situations.
High-Beam Assist makes a significant contribution to ensuring the high-beam is used more frequently. It also helps prevent other road users from being dazzled if the driver switches to low beam too late or not at all. At the same time, it enables the driver to concentrate more on the task of driving. All in all, High-Beam Assist makes a significant contribution to driving safety.

Xenon light, Adaptive Headlight, High-Beam Assist, BMW Night Vision:

BMW initiative for safe and relaxed driving at night.

BMW Night Vision and High-Beam Assist represent the current high point of an initiative by BMW to make night driving safer for all road users and
to offer the driver increased comfort. Xenon headlights, which provide significantly increase brilliance and range, were introduced in 1991 (Bi-Xenon for low and high beam in 2001). This was followed in 2003 by Adaptive Headlights, whose horizontally swiveling headlamps ensure considerably improved illumination of the road ahead.


BMW driver assistance systems:

Intelligent relief of the driver, without taking away control

The function of BMW driver assistance systems is to support the driver in certain situations without taking away his responsibility to safely operate the vehicle. The driver remains the sole “master” of the vehicle. On one hand, driver assistance systems can provide the driver with improved information on potential dangers or give him/her an early warning. On the other hand, they ease the task of driving by taking on simple, repetitive tasks. In general, more information is a bonus in road traffic: up to 50% of all serious accidents are caused by the fact that the driver did not have needed information early enough. A linear increase in the quantity of information is not the aim, however. Important information must be qualitatively processed and made available at the right moment.

Driving at night.
Pedestrians, animals and objects
potentially at

Night driving: three times the risk of an accident as compared to driving during the day.

Accident statistics show that driving at night represents a significant potential danger: in Germany, some 50 per cent of fatal car accidents happen at night, although an average of 75 per cent of all driving is done during the day. This means that the risk of driving at night is three times as high as during the day.
A similar situation is to be found in the
US: with a 28 per cent share of all driving, 55 per cent of all fatal accidents occur at night. Accident statistics throughout Europe as a whole justify intensive consideration of the issue of night driving. According to estimates, approx. 560,000 people are injured in the dark in Europe and some 23,000 are killed each year.

The reasons are obvious: poor or significantly limited sight conditions on country roads, obstacles or narrow bends that are recognized too late with the low beam, inappropriate judgement of speed or distance due to a
lack of orientation for the eye, driving into the “black hole” of the headlights of oncoming traffic, possibly exacerbated by wet, reflecting road surfaces –
just to mention a few examples.

People (and animals) are particularly at risk in the dark.

The darkly dressed jogger in twilight, the insufficiently lit cyclist at night: the increased risk to pedestrians poses one of the biggest safety problems
in the dark. Here again, the German Federal Office for Statistics is clear: over
25,000 accidents per year involving pedestrians and cyclists occur during
the night in

Aim: early detection of people and objects in the dark beyond the cone of light projected by the headlights.

All in all, facts, figures and experience show clearly that solutions are required for nighttime driving that reduce the risk of accidents. Naturally, public authorities bear a significant responsibility in terms of making roads safer with improved lighting, markings and signposting. However, the vehicle itself
offers considerable potential. Here, technologies must be used that can be specifically adapted in vehicles. The aim of driver assistance systems is to enable the detection of potentially dangerous situations as early as possible.


Here, there is no doubt that pedestrians, animals and objects at the side,
or on the road represent the greatest potential dangers, especially if they are located outside the cone of light projected by the headlights. They can not only endanger themselves but put other road users at risk.

Driver assistance systems for increasing safety at night make sense when
they help detect people, animals and objects and provide an early warning system. BMW Night Vision and High-Beam Assist have particularly great potential effectiveness for this very function.

Driver assistance systems do not offer total safety.

Driver assistance systems such as High-Beam Assist and BMW Night Vision cannot offer total safety. To promise this would be misleading, and it is important that their potential is properly understood. They provide better information for the driver than was previously available and make potentially dangerous situations more easily recognizable, but they do not automatically intervene in the situation on the road. Driver assistance systems work rather like a very attentive passenger, facilitating the detection of potentially critical situations for the driver according to the principle of “four eyes see more than two.”

Once driver assistance systems are activated by the driver, they accompany him continuously. Their function is to give the driver more information and options, and an earlier warning of potential risk. This can be crucial: due to its long range (up to 300 m), BMW Night Vision provides a time gain of about 5 seconds at 100 km/h (62mph) as compared to the detectability of objects with high beam only. Ideally, therefore, with the high beam switched on, the driver can be informed 5 seconds earlier about a potentially dangerous situation.

The awareness of additional danger can provide relief for the driver during
a strenuous nocturnal trip, thus allowing a more comfortable, relaxed drive.

Xenon light, Adaptive Headlight, High-Beam Assist, BMW Night Vision:
BMW initiative for safe and relaxed driving at night.

BMW Night Vision and High-Beam Assist are the current high point of an initiative by BMW to make night driving safer for all road users and to offer the driver increased comfort. Xenon headlights, which provide significantly increased brilliance and range, were introduced in 1991 (Bi-Xenon for low and high beam in 2001). This was followed in 2003 by Adaptive Headlights, whose horizontally swivelling headlamps ensure considerably improved illumination



of the road ahead. Xenon headlights are now available for all models and are standard equipment on some BMW models, while Adaptive Headlights are available as an optional extra for most BMW models and as standard equipment on some. The introduction of High-Beam Assist and BMW Night Vision is the logical next step for BMW in creating more safety and comfort in the dark.


More safety is desired by customers

Every responsible motorist is interested in optimum safety. This is why
BMW Night Vision is anything but a mere technical exercise: a study in the US revealed that over 80 per cent of interviewees wanted a night vision
system, when asked to name desired automobile features to increase safety.

In another study, also conducted in the US, High-Beam Assist was rated among the most desirable of anticipated new technologies in automobiles – based on a description of the function and the anticipated price.

A comparison of night vision technologies:
Far Infrared (FIR) vs. Near Infrared (NIR).

Night vision: two differing technologies on the market.

Night vision devices for military and civilian use have existed for some time. There are currently two different technologies: Near Infrared (NIR) and
Far Infrared (FIR). NIR and FIR are initially differentiated by the technological process by which they register the area in front of the vehicle and convert
this into image information for the driver:

  Near Infrared (NIR) beams an infrared light source into the area in front of the vehicle. The light is reflected by objects, the road and human
beings and photographed by an infrared camera. This is then converted to an image in the processor and displayed on a screen.

  With Far Infrared (FIR), a thermal imaging camera directly registers the heat radiated by objects and human beings, making a separate light source from the vehicle superfluous. This information is then converted by
a processor into an image and displayed on the screen.

FIR better suited for use in automobiles.

The two technologies are differentiated mainly in the method by which they visualize information from the surroundings on the screen. With BMW Night Vision, BMW opted to develop a system based on FIR technology. After intensive system comparisons and direct comparative studies, the choice fell to FIR since this system is better able to provide the function of early detection of human beings and objects in the dark. FIR concentrates on the most important information and ignores distracting details.

Advantages for FIR based on technological principles.

BMW engineers first recognized advantages based on the technological principles of the system. For example, the range of night vision systems based on FIR surpasses other technologies by up to 200 per cent, with NIR essentially accounting only for the area already covered by a conventional high beam. Due to the strong heat radiation from people (pedestrians, cyclists) and animals (wild animals crossing the road) as compared to other objects (buildings, traffic, road signs etc), the thermal image reflects the potentially more dangerous situations on the road – i.e., exactly those points to which BMW Night Vision aims to draw the driver’s attention. At the interface to the driver, the symbolic depiction of the thermal image on the monitor screen places further emphasis on potentially critical information.


BMW is the first European premium manufacturer to use and develop FIR technology for increased customer benefits.

BMW has further developed FIR technology for use in automobiles, extending it to include several other useful functions. The camera has a significantly larger angle of exposure (36 degrees) than that of other systems (typically 12 – 18 degrees). In addition, the image section shown on the monitor follows the course of the road and steering angle (panning). Furthermore, a digital zoom can be activated for higher road speeds, showing objects which are further away in enlarged form on the screen. Finally, the iDrive menu can be used to adapt brightness, contrast and screen display according to the individual preferences of the driver. BMW Night Vision is activated/deactivated by means of a switch next to the light switch.

Scientific research also gives a clear message.

In the areas of utilization and technology, the two systems, NIR and FIR, can be further differentiated. This system comparison is based on a study by the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan (UMTRI) published in December 2004. UMTRI is one of the leading research institutions in the field of transportion and road traffic, and its partners include leading automobile manufacturers and numerous well-known names from the supply industry. UMTRI conducted a scientific comparison of FIR and NIR night vision systems, focusing on the detection of human beings using this system.

  FIR has fewer components.
Due to the fact that there is no internal light source as with NIR, FIR systems have fewer components.

  FIR allows you to see “farther”:
FIR systems have a range of some 300 m; the average with NIR is 150 m.
Thus, the distances at which people were detected in the test were significantly larger with FIR. On average, detection distances in the UMTRI study were 165 m with FIR and 59 m with NIR.

  FIR isn’t “dazzled”:
NIR systems are sensitive to the headlamps of oncoming traffic, traffic lights, street lamps and powerfully reflecting surfaces such as traffic signs. Since NIR systems use light waves as the basis for their image information, especially-light-intensive objects appear very brightly on the screen, or  they flash or appear as a diffuse shining. This also applies to the light source of the NIR system when detected by another NIR system. Thus, NIR systems are susceptible to being dazzled by external light sources.

By contrast, FIR systems only display objects that radiate heat – the warmer the object, the more intense the illumination. Generally speaking,
people and animals are shown as strikingly different from the rest of the traffic environment.

  FIR: reduction to the essentials.
NIR systems provide a complete depiction of the given road situation. However, this delays the detection of a person within the image as
a whole. NIR may be better suited for some purposes than FIR, but not for use in vehicles when identifying people. Due to the symbolic depiction used by FIR systems (comparable to a photographic negative), information provided by NIR systems is initially processed more quickly by some users, since it tends to be more familiar at first. However, after a period of familiarization, this is reversed and the information processing speed in detecting people and animals is faster with FIR systems.

Night vision is not a replacement for watching the road!

Night vision systems assist the driver by providing information. They do not replace the requirement of watching the road. Similarly, such systems are not comprehensive, nor do they eliminate the need to be aware of risks and dangers on the road. Weather conditions also influence the quality of image display – both with FIR and NIR. Rain drops and fog filter infrared
light, for example, and this can lead to a deterioration of image quality.

When using night vision systems, one should always be aware of a clearly defined purpose. UMTRI argues as follows: “In view of traffic conditions and night accidents, night vision systems should particularly increase the recognizability of people, cyclists and animals.”

BMW Night Vision.
Thermal imaging to detect people, animals and objects.

BMW Night Vision based on FIR technology is a receptive system which uses the incoming heat radiation from human beings, animals and objects as a source of image data. The system is integrated in the existing electronic environment of the vehicle on a modular basis. Only two additional hardware components are required: the camera and the control unit. The 8.8 inch monitor required for display is installed in conjunction with the Professional Navigation system.

BMW Night Vision Far Infrared camera.

The thermal imaging camera is installed in the left part of the front bumper in its own housing. It is protected by impact-resistant glass and a fine grid. The camera cleaner jet is activated along with the windscreen washer system and ensures a clear view at all times; at outside temperatures below + 5 degrees C (+41 F), the glass cover is heated.

The camera operates with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels and has a range of some 300 m; the image sensor registers heat radiated from people and objects within a wave band of 8 – 14 m. At speeds below 80 km/h (50 mph), the large horizontal aperture angle of the camera of 36 degrees means that not only the road can be identified but also the areas at the side of the road and surroundings (children, wild animals).

BMW Night Vision control unit.

The control unit receives data from the camera and converts it into an image on the central monitor. Depending on outside conditions, the image is electronically brightened or darkened.

At medium road speeds, the zone displayed on the monitor covers an angle
of 24 degrees; this zone moves as the road turns – up to 6 degrees to the left or right. This so-called panning movement is controlled by the parameter “steering angle of wheels”. At higher road speeds, a digital zoom can be activated which displays objects at a greater distance in 1.5 : 1 enlargement.


Display on the on-board monitor.

BMW Night Vision provides the driver with the night vision image as a contrasting black-and-white display on the central monitor in the instrument panel. Use of the Head-Up Display was considered by BMW. However,
tests showed that the superimposition of real and virtual image information could cause irritation and is therefore not optimum.

Basic operation using a switch, fine control with iDrive.

BMW Night Vision is switched on and off using a switch next to the light switch. An iDrive menu is used to activate panning/zoom. The driver has the option to adjust brightness and contrast and to select between full screen and split screen monitor displays.

Planned to be available in the 7 Series as of fourth quarter 2005.

BMW Night Vision is planned to be available beginning in the fourth quarter of 2005 in the BMW 7 Series (non-US versions). Extension to other BMW model series is planned. BMW Night Vision will also be available for retrofit as an Original BMW Accessory (not in the US) for current 7 Series models.

Please note: there is no timetable at this time for introduction of this technology to the US market.

BMW Night Vision is the beginning of a development.

As with the introduction of other innovations, there will be several stages of development with BMW Night Vision. The system is a significant improvement in the identification of critical situations when driving at night. However, it cannot provide comprehensive safety at night and does not relieve the driver of his responsibility for safe operation of the vehicle.

A research focus for the future lies in the fact that Night Vision systems might be able to identify critical situations within the general traffic environment
and warn the driver via diverse on-board display functions. Initial steps towards so-called object detection have already been taken, however system performance is not yet in line with the demands made of such a system by BMW and its customers. The error rate of object recognition is still too high, and this could potentially frustrate the driver. Only when such systems do justice to BMW requirements would they be put into series production.

High-Beam Assist.
Automated activation of the high beam.

In practice, the high beam is rarely used and not always switched
off in time.

Unfortunately, the high beam is very rarely used in practice, even though such use would be more frequently possible and even desirable. A scientific study in the US on behalf of the US Department of Transportation has found that the high beam is only used in about 25 per cent of cases in which its use would be possible. As with windshield wipers, the constant switching on and off of the high beam can be an irritating and repetitive activity. So it was a logical step to exploit the potential of the high beam using intelligent technology in order to provide relief for the driver.

Other studies have shown that when drivers switch on the high beam, they often fail to deactivate it in time, thus unnecessarily dazzling other road users. Such situations can also be avoided by means of intelligent technology.

More frequent use of the high beam, no dazzling of other road users, relief for the driver.

High-Beam Assist makes it possible to use the high beam more frequently and correctly. At the same time it provides relief for the driver and thus increases comfort. All in all, High-Beam Assist makes a significant contribution to driving safety.

High-Beam Assist optimizes the use of the high beam precisely for those driving situations in which the high beam is permitted and desirable.
This increases the duration of high beam activation. It also ensures that the high beam is deactivated in time, so as not to dazzle other road users. For the driver, High-Beam Assist means a tangible increase in comfort: the sensor-controlled automation of High-Beam Assist relieves him
almost completely of the need to activate and deactivate the high beam.


A sensor at the front of the inside rear view mirror controls the automatic activation and deactivation of the high beam. High-Beam Assist ensures that the high beam is switched on whenever the surrounding traffic allows and requires it. The sensor consists of a camera which is attached to the inside rear view mirror housing. The image is fed into an electronic evaluation system.


The high beam is automatically deactivated in the following situations:

  oncoming traffic (including motorcycles).
Here, the system recognizes the high or low beam of vehicles.

  vehicles driving ahead.
The red rear lights of vehicles are recognized.

  with sufficient street lighting, i.e., in built-up areas.

  At low speeds, when driving with the high beam does not provide any increase in safety.

The system also analyses the brightness and color of the light source so as to imitate human use of the high beam as closely as possible. It is designed so that road users within a range of up to approximately 1,000 m are detected.

Familiar use without additional switches.

High-Beam Assist does not require additional switches or operating elements. It is activated by means of the light control unit by putting the rotational
knob on automatic (same position as for the activation of the light sensor for automatic control of the low beam). In addition, the direction indicator lever must be pushed towards high beam, if currently on low beam. A control lamp in the instrument panel indicates that High-Beam Assist is activated.

High-Beam Assist as a driver assistance system:

manual intervention possible at all times.

High-Beam Assist is a driver assistance system that – like  BMW Night Vision – does not relieve the driver of his responsibility to operate the vehicle safely, but provides him with support. High-Beam Assist can be manually overridden at any time with the usual functions of “Permanent low beam” or “Permanent high beam”. Also, the headlamp flasher can be used normally at all times.

High-Beam Assist cannot replace a personal decision regarding the use of the high beam. Nor can there be a guarantee that all situations will be correctly judged by the system. Unfavorable weather conditions such as thick fog can limit the function of High-Beam Assist. Other road users with poor illumination – such as pedestrians, cyclists, riders, etc., cannot be reliably detected by the system. In poorly lit towns, for example, the high beam should be manually deactivated.


BMW as the first premium manufacturer in Europe with
High-Beam Assist.

BMW will be the first premium manufacturer in Europe to offer High-Beam Assist, beginning in September 2005. It will be available in the BMW 5 Series,
6 Series and 7 Series (non-US versions) as an option.

Please note: there is no timetable at this time for introduction of this technology to the US market.