Mercedes' Crazy New Headlights Are Basically Magic

Mercedes' new digital headlights
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Rarely does a much-hyped product actually live up to hyperbolic headlines, but Mercedes' new HD headlights, which the company refers to as "digital light," are legitimately cool as hell. Each headlight uses 1 million microscopic mirrors in conjunction with an array of sensors and advanced software to project light in specific areas of the road where it's most beneficial to the driver.

And it turns out that they're so precise, they actually double as HD projectors. Meaning, they can project helpful symbols and warnings onto the road. Seriously.

Mercedes Digital Light Concept
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The light specifically recognizes people's faces and won't blind oncoming traffic

While the concept of using mirrors and sensors to direct a headlight might sound needlessly complicated, it enables several features that are absolutely game-changing. The sensors monitor the road ahead and can pinpoint areas that are less well-lit, automatically directing more light to balance the field of vision and ease the strain on your eyes.

More importantly, though, if there's a pedestrian or an oncoming car, the headlight system will recognize and avoid people's eyes. It will light up a person from the neck down, but not blind them, so they're far less likely to be affected by your oncoming lights. If you've ever been momentarily blinded by someone else's high beams, you know how much it sucks -- and how dangerous it can be.

Mercedes' Digital headlights
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

They can project HD images onto the road in front of you

Not blinding people is cool and everything, but the idea of headlights that project images and warnings onto the road sounds somewhere between James Bond wizardry and outright science fiction. Cars that have the ability to recognize road signs have been a thing for a while now, and Mercedes is the first to integrate that tech into a fancy headlight unit that literally projects that intel out ahead of you.

Mercedes' Digital Headlights
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

That means it will project a stop sign, construction sign, or even a snowflake, to let you know it's cold outside and potentially icy. If there's a narrow or unusual lane (i.e., like you see in basically every construction zone), it can even project bright lines for you to follow.

Mercedes' Digital Headlights
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

You're looking at over 1 million mirrors. Think about that.

This is the entire headlight unit, and for the sake of scale, assume that pen is of normal size. More than a million mirrors focus the light of over 8,000 individual LED chips, which is how the headlight can selectively leave specified objects in the dark.

As for when you'll see these incredible headlights on the road, Mercedes is a little tight-lipped on that one. The prototypes are already fitted to several cars right now, so it's safe to assume the first cars to feature the production version of the lights will debut in the next year or so.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. He's proud of himself for not calling these headlights "a bright idea."