There are more than a few edgy experimental headlight technologies floating around these days, including systems that follow the driver's eyesight and others that light up potential hazards. Mercedes has just announced a conceptual new set of lamps that can not only adapt their light distribution to cater to the environment, but can project high-res visual aids onto the road ahead, such as makeshift zebra crossings for nearby pedestrians.
The new system is dubbed Digital Light and features two million pixels that, with the help of algorithms and sensors that analyze the vehicle's surroundings, can each adjust their individual brightness depending on the scenario. An example of this might be a partial dimming to avoid blinding a cyclist.
We have seen this kind of adaptive lighting technology before in systems developed by Fraunhofer and indeed Mercedes itself, although tuning it to control millions of pixels individually does appear to be new territory.
But where the Digital Light system gets quite interesting is with the ability to project different objects onto the road. If you picture a not-too-distant future where connected, sensor-laden cars know all about the world around them, then you can see why this could be more than a gimmick.
Imagine you are rolling up to an intersection in a foreign city with unfamiliar streets signs and the car, having collected the necessary information, projects a stop sign onto the road out ahead. Perhaps just as practical is the ability to shoot out strips of light that represent the precise width of the car, which could be pretty hand just as you try to squeeze through that extremely narrow gap.
Another example offered in the video below is the car creating a zebra crossing for a pedestrian waiting to cross the road, and Mercedes says the system could also project light traces onto the road to replace missing markings, along with direction arrows and warnings.
Realistically, this kind of technology hitting the streets is probably a ways off. For what it's worth, Mercedes says it has already fitted it to a number of demo vehicles and reckons it will be on the road "in the near future."