Digital Lights: New invention from Mercedes adds life to science fiction

It looks like science fiction, but for at least a select group of Mercedes-Maybach S-Class customers, it’s science fact: high-definition multi-megapixel LED headlights that can communicate!

The system is so precise it can project detailed images or messages on the road in front of the car, as in this light-hearted new video – but that just serves to emphasize the possibilities of communication with the car’s surroundings.

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How was this possible?

First shown at the Geneva motor show and already on trial with selected fleet customers, Mercedes-Benz calls it simply Digital Light – a development of multibeam LED lighting that, instead of a single reflector to direct each beam, has than a million computer-controlled micro-reflectors in each headlight cluster.

Cameras and sensors on the car detect oncoming traffic, pedestrians, animals and road hazards, a powerful computer evaluates the data and compares it with digital navigation maps in real time and adjusts each of the micro-reflectors to illuminate the road ahead as brightly as possible, but without throwing any light into the eyes of oncoming drivers or into the mirrors of drivers ahead of you.

The micro-reflectors can also swivel downwards to project high-definition symbols on the road ahead of you – which opens a whole new can of possibilities.

Firstly, it can give you information directly projected onto the road ahead, directly in your field of vision. If the car detects a pedestrian or an animal near the road, it can project an arrow on the road pointing straight at the hazard. Or, when you set or reset following distance using the Distronic Plus cruise control system, it can show you on the road exactly how far away you’ve set it.

And, if you enter a construction site or a section of road without lane markings, it can throw a pair of lines the same width as the car, similar to those in current reversing camera systems, but directly onto the road, to show you exactly where to go.