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Road Kill

by Charles Oates

Automobiles maim and kill thousands of animals and a fewer number of pedestrians on our highways every night. As speeds increase, so does the slaughter. While better headlights and anti-skid breaking allow for quicker recognition and avoidance, driver reaction time remains the same.

Small mammals cause little remorse. The thump under the wheels when hitting an errant squirrel or rabbit is disconcerting, but not always avoidable. Their prolific lifestyle prevents them from becoming endangered species. Drivers may rationalize an animals shortened life span by believing their bodies provide necessary substance for scavenging animals.

itting larger animals is more serious. Family pets such as dogs and wild animals such as deer cause real damage and major inconvenience. Hit a one hundred pound deer and your car is on the way to the body shop, never mind about the deer.

razy people, young and old, on bicycles, joggers, owners walking their pets, with no thought of safety, frequent the edges of our secondary roads. Its not uncommon for a car to pass within inches of a pedestrian and the driver not react until a hundred yards down the road. Hit a pedestrian, get a lawyer, see you in court.

Short of restricting driving to daylight hours not much can be done to reduce the mayhem. What the driver reacts to is what he sees directly in front of him. No one can see beyond the headlights’ beam. But, now, there is a way to see in the dark.

aytheon has developed ‘Night Vision’. It is available on the Cadillac DeVille 2000. ‘Night Vision’ is an infrared warning system that detects warm blooded objects in the dark. Its a very sophisticated piece of equipment and is very efficient at detecting animals such as deer running towards the road or a person walking along the edge of the highway.

ow good is it? “Night Vision’ lets drivers view objects five times farther away than one can see them in their low beam headlights, and twice as far away as high beams - out to five hundred yards on a flat road. In comparison a football field is one hundred yards long. Infrared devices are not sensitive to intense humidity and so can see through fog, the most dangerous condition to drive in. However, ‘Night Vision’ is most effective on long straight highways, on the darkest nights, when speeds are high and reaction time is at a premium.

An infrared camera is mounted just behind the car’s grille. It detects infrared energy, which is heat, in a range of eight to fourteen microns. The human body, at 98.6 degrees, has a heat signature of 9.3 microns.

Objects, detected by the camera, are recorded electronically and the data is transmitted to the electronics module, processed, then sent to the driver’s display.

In a darkened car an image is viewed by the driver as a heads-up display on the windshield. Its centered in front of the steering wheel and about the size of a rearview mirror. The driver views the display as easily as glancing at his speedometer, without moving his head, or redirecting his attention from the road.

arm-blooded objects appear lighter than the display’s background and look ghost like. The image on the windshield is the reflected image from an active LCD matrix mounted in the dashboard. There are no expensive elements embedded in the windshield. Objects that appear in the display alert the diver to sit-up, slow down, and be alert.

Raytheon is a prime contractor for the military and has developed infrared devices under its contracts. The ability of being able to see the enemy when he can’t see you is a tactical advantage that can’t be overcome. Those who rule the night win the battle. Consider the one-hundred day war against Iraq and our bombing of Belgrade in securing Kosovo.

Night Vision is a commercial spin-off of these contracts. It is a two thousand dollar option on a car that sells for forty-five thousand dollars. This is not the average car you find in the parking spot of your local town house community.

he number of animals saved from a fatal impact by the ‘Night Vision’ system is not significant. There aren’t that many forty-five thousand cars around, and fewer with the infrared option. Its real worth is for the owner, reducing the probability of expensive repairs, and maybe detect a few hidden speed traps.

hat impact could an infrared device have on society. Its not hard to imagine. Will foreign countries be able to develop advanced military capabilities by buying cars equipped with the infrared device and reverse engineer the system? Will hunters be able to adopt infrared detection for illegal night hunting? Could illegal aliens cross our borders with impunity, avoiding the interdiction of border guards, by building portable infrared devices stripped from cars?

Is it possible that infrared devices will become the airbags of a new century and be mandated equipment on all vehicles? Or will ‘Night Vision’ be just one of those neat little novelties, available as an option on upscale cars. Stay tuned.

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