Ford Focusing on Headlamp Technologies

Thursday, December 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. will be putting new headlamp technology on display at the upcoming auto shows, with a focus on better visibility, less glare and lower cost.

While cars are the stars of the auto show season, which starts next month, Ford hopes the headlamps it puts on three concept cars will get some attention of their own.

The headlamps utilize two different technologies: high intensity discharge (HID) and light emitting diode (LED).

Ford's HID lamps have two main components: a module that produces a brilliant light from an electric arc passed through a gas, and a fiber optic array that carries the light to the actual headlamps.

According to Mahendra Dassanayake, Ford senior technical specialist in optical electronics, the company's HID headlamps are cheaper to replace when damaged, allow for finer tuning of the beam pattern and require less power that conventional headlamps using halogen bulbs. ``For the customer, it's definitely fantastic,'' he said.

Mercedes-Benz has offered a type of high discharge headlamp since 1999, but not using fiber optics. And not every motorist is happy with them.

``There have been complaints about glare from HID lights,'' said Clarence Ditlow, who heads the Center for Auto Safety.

``The government needs to step in and standardize this, because with so many different types of headlights we've gone downhill on standardization,'' Ditlow said.

Dassanayke says HID headlamps using fiber optics can actually produce less glare than conventional headlamps to oncoming drivers because engineers can more precisely aim the tips of the fibers.

Engineers can also tune the color of HID light to a hue more pleasing to the human eye, he said.

The ability to control the beam pattern and color of the light means HID technology could open the door to even more sophisticated headlight systems, such as ``smart'' or adaptive lighting, which adjusts the light to road and weather conditions, Dassanayake said.

HID headlamps will be a feature on a concept car at the Los Angeles Auto Show, opening to the public Jan. 5, and at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, opening Jan. 12.

Light emitting diodes, or LED's have been around for a long time, used mainly as indicators rather than sources of illumination. Ford is experimenting with clustering groups of LED's to produce enough light to make them useful in headlamps.

``The big advantage is reduced power consumption,'' Dassanayake said.

LED's use half the power of halogen lights. The challenges, he says, are creating a powerful enough beam in an appropriate pattern.

Like HID lighting, LED headlamps would produce less glare to oncoming drivers because each LED in the cluster could be precisely aimed.

A concept car with LED headlamps will be exhibited at the Detroit show. They will be used in the low beam and fog lamps, all of the signal lights, rear combination lamps, the center high-mounted stop light, front turn signals and marker lights.

Several automakers use LED's for turn signals, taillights and brake lights, but not in headlamps.

Both technologies are nearly ready to go, and are being considered for future vehicle programs, said Ford spokesman Said Deep.