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High-Beam Assist Paves Way for New Headlamp Technologies

May 6th, 2009
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Gentex Corporation, the leading supplier of automatic-dimming rearview mirrors to the worldwide automotive industry, announced today that it has shipped its one-millionth SmartBeam® High-Beam Assist system and expanded the SmartBeam product line to include new levels of camera-based forward-lighting functionality.

SmartBeam is a first-of-its-kind headlamp automation feature that uses a custom CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) image sensor and algorithmic decision-making to automatically switch a vehicle's headlamps between low and high beams according to surrounding traffic conditions.

Gentex began shipping SmartBeam systems in 2004, and today, the core technology is available on 24 different vehicle models across Europe and the US with additional product launches planned for later this year.

"A number of years ago, we set out to become the leading supplier of headlamp-assist camera systems, and this one-millionth SmartBeam system milestone demonstrates that we are well on our way," said Fred Bauer, Gentex chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

SmartBeam's success helped create a whole new category of adaptive lighting technologies.  The product's debut marked the first time a camera system was used to optimise forward lighting, yet today, a number of auto suppliers offer camera-based headlamp assist features, and virtually every major automaker in Europe has announced plans for launching adaptive lighting technologies on new vehicles.

The original SmartBeam automatically turns on a vehicle's high beams when it's dark enough and no other vehicles are present.  The system automatically reverts the vehicle's headlamps to their low-beam state upon detecting either the headlamps or taillamps of other vehicles.  SmartBeam can work with virtually any type of headlamp -- including xenon, LED and conventional halogen systems that either fade between low and high beams or switch on/off instantly.  Halogen headlamps currently account for approximately 85 percent of the global headlamp market.

As a result of ongoing imager and software improvement initiatives, today's SmartBeam is also capable of controlling the future generations of headlamp systems.

For instance, the latest version of SmartBeam not only automates high- and low-beam switching, but also can be used to produce continuously variable low-beams.  Many cars today come equipped with high-intensity discharge headlamps that use self-levelling systems to automatically adjust the headlamps according to cargo load and road inclination.  SmartBeam communicates with these dynamic-levelling systems to raise and lower the low beams in order to maximise forward lighting according to surrounding traffic conditions.  This continuously variable system can also help generate unique low-beam patterns for optimal forward illumination in towns or on hills, motorways and rural roads.

SmartBeam can also be used to control "constant ON" high beam systems that require next-generation headlamp hardware, which is currently being developed by various headlamp manufacturers.  For these future systems, SmartBeam would generate "block-out" or "glare-free" zones around oncoming and preceding traffic, allowing light to be cast around surrounding traffic for maximum forward lighting.

"This new SmartBeam functionality is based on next-generation imagers, and demonstrates our commitment to innovation within this core competency," said Gentex senior vice president Enoch Jen.  "In addition, we have already been awarded a future vehicle programme that uses SmartBeam to not only automate high-beam usage but also produce continuously variable low beams."

These new levels of functionality aren't the only reasons that Gentex believes it has an edge over the competition.  First and foremost is experience.  Light sensing and control features have been critical to the company's success since its inception in 1974 and, consequently, it has nearly 35 years of experience in this niche field.

Gentex also has distinct packaging advantages.  The company integrates its SmartBeam system in an automatic-dimming rearview mirror.  Unlike other camera systems that need to be mounted directly to the windscreen -- and therefore have to be packaged specifically for every vehicle -- SmartBeam resides in the mirror assembly, allowing a single packaging solution to function across vehicle platforms.  It's also arguably a more elegant styling solution.  And, because the camera is "off glass," it minimises potential warranty issues stemming from windscreen replacement and improperly re-installed or misaimed cameras.

Lower cost is another Gentex advantage.  The company develops and manufactures its own custom-designed, automotive-grade imagers.  Instead of purchasing relatively expensive, multi-purpose camera systems that include unnecessary functionality, Gentex designs SmartBeam with the specific performance necessary to achieve the desired application intent.  Furthermore, Gentex's management of the entire system -- imager, software and packaging -- allows it to offer a superior performing product at a lower total system cost.  System improvements and adaptations are also less complicated and can be made more rapidly.

"Automobile buyers today are inundated with new, high-tech camera-controlled active safety features, but few if any provide the level of comfort and safety benefits derived from optimised forward lighting," continued Jen.  "The dangers associated with night-time driving are universal, which explains our emphasis on protecting and enhancing driver vision."

Driving at night is inherently dangerous.  A high percentage of accidents with injuries and deaths occur at night, with low light levels a major contributing factor. That's why Gentex and its SmartBeam system continue to evolve and improve, providing automakers with highly functional, cost-effective, elegantly packaged camera systems for optimising any of today's sophisticated headlamp systems.

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