Auto Industry Embraces Optical Technologies

The Auto Industry is an enormous proving ground for technological advances, exceeded only by the defense and aerospace industries. These advances have chiefly been in the areas of metallurgy, electronics and emission controls, all of which have had to meet the rigid cost constraints of the automobile industry. Historically, the use of optical devices—other than mirrors and focusing lenses for lamps—has been limited. Exceptions include optical fiber (as lamp monitors on late-60s Corvettes and Cadillacs), photocells (as headlamp dimming switches in the late 1950s) and IR sensors (principally as back-up warning systems for trucks). Until very recently, in fact, the auto industry’s cost constraints have precluded the use of optical devices. Now, however, the situation is rapidly changing. Several new optical-based products are already (or will soon be) available as factory-installed or aftermarket equipment. Two particularly significant technologies are “smart glass” and night vision systems.

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