Is this a gimmick or a brilliant idea?
Ford has a new patent filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office that CarBuzz discovered, and it details an adaptive color selection system developed specifically for puddle lights. In a nutshell, the system will scan the surrounding environment and evaluate what level of contrast and choice of color would make a projected image easiest to see.
Much like a recent advancement from BMW, the idea is to make puddle lights and the information they may convey easier to see, irrespective of what the surrounding environment's lighting conditions and coloring may be. There is no obvious practical benefit that this tech could offer - it's just something nifty that could become more useful as more comprehensive information is eventually transmitted via puddle lights.
The system will project as it normally does, shining either a simple light or a design onto the ground. Then, since many cars come with one or more 360-degree cameras, the car would use those image sensors to perform color analysis. An initial image of the surface on which the lighting projects is captured, allowing the car to determine which color is dominant on the ground.
For example, a Ford Bronco could find itself on light concrete in a Walmart parking lot or on brown mud on the trails. Grass, asphalt, road markings, and other variables can also change the color of the surface the light will be projected onto, and one side of the car could be parked alongside freshly plowed snow, while the other may be alongside the recently exposed asphalt. This system will determine the correct color for each puddle system and what level of contrast that color needs for the image to be clearly visible. After all, lighting is now an identity, and Ford doesn't want that identity to be illegible.
To ensure that the graphic is clearly visible, the analysis performed by the system would occur first in ambient light, and then a second image would be taken under illumination from the projector. Again, variables could affect how the light is perceived, so the system could even make allowance for negative areas of the projection, where no light would be shone as another means of creating contrast.
The patent also suggests that, if autonomous technology becomes viable, the car could reposition itself so as to clearly display the image, but that seems somewhat unnecessary. After all, what benefit do puddle lights provide other than illumination for the occupants and marketing for the manufacturer? Well, we can think of some potential uses.
To see the benefit of this invention, we have to take a broader view. Ford notes that technology already exists to allow puddle lighting systems to convey more than just an automaker's logo. Kia has even begun work on a customizable puddle light system that can shine just about any projection you like.
With that in mind, Ford puddle lights could provide valuable information, such as the temperature of the cabin, the fuel level (or remaining charge), or something more. In parts of Europe, Tesla has been battling privacy concerns over Sentry Mode, and a projection could inform surrounding individuals that the cameras are activated.
These are just a few potential uses, but we're sure Ford has thought of several more applications. This patent lays the groundwork for those applications, and when Ford is ready, its puddle lighting will be more vibrant, more legible, and more useful than anything currently on the market. If, in the end, the system is no more practical than today, at least it will do a better job of marketing the brand, day or night.
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