Bambi and Bullwinkle both say 'Buy one!'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The latest military aircraft technology is taking to the pavement.

Night Vision is an infrared system that helps drivers see as much as five times farther down the road at night than with ordinary low beams.

An infrared picture of the road ahead is projected in the bottom of the windshield and highlights humans, animals, and cars with their engines running, which have the hottest "heat signatures" on the road.

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Cadillac says half of all car accidents and three times as many driving fatalities occur at night, even though night driving accounts for only one-quarter of total miles driven.

So if a deer or a moose jumps in front of your car, you can see it three to five times sooner with Night Vision than with low-beam headlights alone.

Everything in the universe emits heat. Hotter objects appear whiter, and cooler ones darker. The display looks like a black-and-white photo negative.

It appears to float at the end of the hood in the driver's lower peripheral vision. So the driver doesn't have to look away from the road or refocus his eyes to see the display.

More important, it stays out of the driver's primary line of vision, so the view out the windshield remains the driver's primary focus.

Night Vision can also help with driving through light fog or against the glare of oncoming headlights at night. Since the infrared sensor doesn't register visible light, the glaring headlights don't show up on the Night Vision display.

And to avert their eyes from the glare, drivers tend to look down toward the road - where they can see the head-up display (HUD). The HUD is designed to appear the same size as a driver's image of the road, to help drivers gauge distance to an object.

Night Vision will appear in the next Cadillac DeVille, which will be redesigned for 2000 and introduced in the fall.

Prices aren't set yet, but the system will probably cost about as much as a global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation system or high-end stereo, says Cadillac spokesman Michael Albano. Figure $1,500 to $2,000.

The system uses a 1-inch sensor mounted in the grille of the car. The sensor records heat the way a camcorder records light. It sends a signal to an active-matrix LCD monitor on top of the dashboard. When the monitor lights up, the image reflects off the windshield.

The system comes on automatically with the car's headlights, though it can also be dimmed or turned off.

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