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For use with Chapter 12
Thermal Energy

A New Vision for the Cars of the Future
Posted October 12, 1998

The risk of being in an accident while driving a car is very high. The risks increase at night. Although only about 25 percent of all traffic accidents happen after dark, twice as many of these nighttime crashes are fatal as compared to those that happen during the day. Many of these crashes happen not on the busy interstate, but on lonely roads where there are no streetlights and very little traffic.

Headlights have very short ranges. Low beams allow you to see approximately 50 meters ahead; with your high beams, that number triples to 150 meters. Still, at 55 miles an hour, 150 meters goes by in about 5 seconds, giving you very little time to stop. Now, using technology developed by the military, motorists can see better in the dark. It's called night-vision.

There are two types of night-vision: one amplifies existing light, and the other called thermal imaging uses infrared sensors. As far back as the Vietnam War, helicopter pilots used thermal imaging to locate troops through dense foliage. More recently, in the Gulf War, the US military used night-vision to help them see Iraqi targets during night bombing raids.

Soon, Cadillac will offer thermal imaging technology to their customers. The model-year 2000 Cadillac DeVille will have a night-vision "head-up display," which projects dashboard readings and a picture of the road ahead on the windshield so motorists can see them without taking their eyes off the road. This new technology will enable a driver to see 5 times farther than with high beams.

Thermal imaging is ideal for cars for two reasons. First of all, most dangerous obstacles that appear in the middle of dark roads - like warm-blooded mammals such as deer and other people - give off their own heat. They make very clear thermal images on the display. Second, because this system relies on heat and not existing light, drivers won't be blinded by the oncoming headlights of other cars. Headlights may be bright, but they give off little heat, so they are relatively dim in the night-vision display.

Cadillac is the first automobile manufacturer to offer night-vision to their customers. If this feature is a success, other companies may jump on the bandwagon. In a few short years, thermal imaging may be a standard on new automobiles, just as airbags are today.

Use the Internet to research the development of night-vision technology. Think of three creative ways people could use night-vision technology in everyday life.



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