Fully autonomous vehicles are coming but the reality is, they're still many years away. Until then, automakers are keeping busy by developing new technologies such as adaptive headlights designed to make human driving as safe as possible.
German automakers Audi, BMW and Mercedes are at the forefront of this movement, and rightfully so - they aren't hamstrung by archaic regulations like those in the US.
At present, vehicles sold in the US are allowed to feature swivel-style adaptive headlights - an improvement over standard straight-beam lights but nothing remotely as cool or practical as the Matrix LED and laser headlights found on autos overseas.
The US will eventually update its laws and when that happens, Ford will be ready.
The Michigan-based automaker is working on an advanced lighting technology that employs infrared cameras embedded in a vehicle's front bumper that are capable of detecting heat signatures of people and large animals on unlit roads. This data is then fed to two independent "spotlights" positioned where you'd normally find the fog lights tasked with shining light in the direction of the obstacle.
There's also a warning that's displayed on the car's infotainment screen which frames objects in yellow or red based on risk level.
Ford Research Engineer Michael Koherr said the technology gives drivers an additional two or three seconds to react to potential hazards. It's able to detect as many as eight objects at any given time although only the two most imminent threats will receive the spotlight treatment.
The safety system is also able to determine when a driver is approaching an intersection, roundabout or otherwise sharp turn and can widen the headlight beams to help illuminate the surroundings. The system will then tag the location using GPS so it'll know it's coming next time.
Ford says the safety feature is still in the prototype phase but it plans to offer the option "in the near term." Given the US' stubbornness on the matter, however, it probably won't be offered on vehicles sold domestically for quite some time. As such, Ford will initially focus its efforts on the Asian and European markets.