Volkswagen Debuts Impressive Thermal Imaging Technology, U.S. Will Have to Wait

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
volkswagen debuts impressive thermal imaging technology u s will have to wait

Driving assistance technologies are becoming more prevalent in mainstream automobiles. In fact, it’s downright impressive what you can get if you’re willing to pay for it. With entry level models now coming equipped with quite a bit of advanced hardware as standard, manufacturers have to do more to set the pricier units apart.

Thermal imaging is something we expect to see as an option on a high-end luxury vehicle, but Volkswagen plans to have them at the ready for the 2019 model-year Touareg. While it’s not exactly a budget model, that’s still a major leap forward for a mainstream automaker. The downside is that North America will have to remain patient as VW starts baking the technology into more vehicles, because the brand already decided to eliminate the Touareg from its 2018 U.S. lineup.

Infrared (IR) cameras aren’t new. In addition to being mandatory equipment on self-driving test vehicles, they frequently crop up as a way to help semi-autonomous systems do their job. But VW is providing a live-feed in the dashboard to help drivers avoid warm-blooded obstacles skulking around in the evenings, long before they are silhouetted by a car’s headlamps.

Volkswagen’s system appears to work very similar to what we’ve seen with upscale Mercedes-Benz. A forward facing infrared camera takes in data and feeds it through the dashboard. Important obstacles that give off heat, like a jogger or deer, are then highlighted in eye-catching colors they driver is sure to notice.

According to VW, its system can also predict the trajectory of a living creature by assigning a set of digital boundaries along the roadway. Once the system decides an obstacle has entered the “defined corridor” the car issues an alert telling the driver to pay attention by highlighting it in red. However, even when something is not deemed a potential threat, the black-and-white display will still give it a yellow hue so drivers still know to exercise caution.

Likewise, anytime the vehicle is traveling above 31 miles per hour the system will automatically send the infrared video feed to the Digital Cockpit whenever it detects an obstacle within the corridor. The car also issues an audible warning and prepares the brakes for an emergency stop.

It’s all very cool but we would still like to urge drivers to exercise caution and not rely on a system like this too much. While VW is promising an impressive range of up to 426 feet, IR imaging isn’t exceptionally clear. Objects radiating warmth may stand out but the same cannot be said for the rest of the road. Attempting to drive via video feed is also very disorienting and not something we would recommend. But the feature itself could still help alert drivers of approaching disaster — allowing them to take a quick peek to gain an valuable point of reference, slow down, and use their human eyes to scan the path ahead.

It would be nice to see Volkswagen implement this system on more vehicles. There are a lot of darkened country roads that intersect with suicidal populations of deer in the U.S. and this kind of technology could really come in handy. VW hasn’t specified an intention to put thermal imaging on more vehicles after the Touareg, but we doubt it would take a one-and-done approach. Our assumption is that you’ll see it offered as an option on more models in the years to come.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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2 of 13 comments
  • Starskeptic Starskeptic on May 07, 2018

    "...silhouetted by a car’s headlamps." I'd be more worried about the vehicle coming directly at me, in that case...

  • IBx1 IBx1 on May 07, 2018

    Show me a deer on an HUD windshield; that's the only technological asset I would accept in a car from all this radar/camera crap.

  • Kwik_Shift Low priced models (< $40G CAD)are leaving dealer lots as soon as they come in. Local Nissan dealer had 2 '23 Sentra SR Premiums come in last week and sold off this week. These were extra for stock.
  • EBFlex Good. This was Ford's way of culling the number of dealers they have. It was ridiculous and the requirements were unnecessary. Yet another huge hit to Ford's pointless EV push.
  • Dukeisduke So we have to wait until 2025 for a crappy turbo four coupled with an electric motor, instead of the torquey 4.0l 1GR-FE?
  • Raven65 This was basically my first car - although mine was a '76. My Dad bought it new to use as a commuter for his whopping 15-minute drive to work (gas is too expensive!) - but it was given to my sister when she left for college a couple of years later - and then she passed it down to me when I got my license in 1981. It was a base model... and I mean BASE... as in NO options. Manual 4-speed (no o/d) transmission, rubber floor (no carpet), no A/C, and no RADIO (though I remedied that within a week of taking ownership). Dad paid just over three grand for it. Mine was a slightly darker shade of yellow than this one (VW called it "Rallye Yellow") with the same black vinyl "leatherette" seat covers. Let me tell you, the combination of no A/C and that black vinyl interior was BRUTAL in the SC summers! Instrumentation was sparse to say the least, but who needs a tach when you have those cool little orange dots on the speedo to indicate redline in gears (one dot for redline in 1st gear, two dots for redline in 2nd gear, three for 3rd). LOL! It wasn't much, but it was MINE... and I LOVED it! It served me well through the remainder of high school and all the way through college and into my first "real job" where I started making actual money and finally traded it in on a brand new '89 Nissan 240SX. They gave me $300 for it!!!. I wish I still had it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
  • Analoggrotto Telluride is still better