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Ford's new adaptive headlights shine a spotlight on pedestrians

The German luxury behemoths were the first to introduce high-tech adaptive headlights — BMW, Mercedes, and Audi all have some version of the technology — but now Ford is readying its own take on adaptive headlights that should be a bit easier on the wallet.

Ford's version uses two spotlights in place of traditional fog lamps. An infrared camera in the car's grille stays on the lookout for pedestrians and animals, and when it spots something, it directs the spotlights to aim at and highlight the potential obstacle. The extra light makes the person more easily noticeable, and even provides a sort of light beam that points along the pavement to the pedestrian.

Of course, the infrared display will also show the heat signatures of people and large animals right on the display in your car — it can track up to eight objects — and it will box them in red or yellow based on how much of a risk they are to you. The two highest priority targets will get the actual spotlight treatment.

A more affordable take on the Germans' fancy systems

We'll have to see how Ford's new system performs in the real world, but it should represent a significant cost savings over Audi's Matrix LED system, which controls separate LEDs in the headlamp to highlight and blink light on pedestrians on the side of the road. It also selectively turns off the LEDs that would otherwise blind oncoming drivers so that it can keep the "high beams" on at all times.

Ford's spotlight technology is only in pre-development at this point, but some other improvements should be available soon. The car company is expanding its existing technology, which can read traffic signs and adjust the headlamps accordingly. Now Ford's using GPS to see if there's an upcoming intersection or curve in the road, and it adjusts appropriately by either spreading the beam to illuminate side streets or aiming the headlights into the curve. They can even tell if there's a dip in the road, and the headlights will aim downwards to let you see the road ahead. If GPS isn't available, Ford's system will now use the front-facing camera to read lane markings and guess the road's path.

Ford says these new features should be available in the "near term," but it'll be a long time before you'll see any of these improvements in the US. Archaic regulations still ban any sort of adaptive headlight system like this, whether it comes from Audi, BMW, or Ford.