BMW 5-series infra-red nightvision

Nightvision Close Pedestrian

I don't know, I didn't look it up, but BMW probably calls its infra-red nightvision a safety tool. I don't. I call it the coolest science-project driving distraction ever.

A few months ago, I drove a Mercedes S-Class with night vision. That system uses an ultrasensitive camera mounted in the big Mercedes grille to amplify ambient light. The result is that, when active, the speedometer is replaced by a surprisingly bright image of what lies ahead.; A useful tool, I thought, and moved on.

Not so with the system in a BMW 530xi I drove last week. I became completely mesmerized by the display, barely able to look away. The difference is that BMW's system uses an infra-red camera that doesn't see light. It sees heat. And to a techno-geek, there is nothing cooler.

Stopped at a traffic light, you can observe the hot spots of the car in front of you. At one point, I had a slammed 240SX in front of me, and could see what the visible negative camber was doing to his tires - the insides were white hot, the outsides, cool black.; Driving along the interstate, I could tell that an Explorer up ahead was about to do the Firestone Flip - it had perilously low pressure in one of its rear tires.; I could tell because it was much, much hotter than the other three.; A beat-to-hell Lumina's over-inflated tires showed narrow bands of heat in the center of the treads.

Completely invisible-to-the-naked-eye water towers on the horizon were illuminated so clearly you can tell where the water line was. Rocks on the side of the road that retain heat better than the surrounding flora glowed in the display like floodlights. And living beings like animals and drunk college students (which share the same tendency to jump out in front of speeding cars) show up as clear as day, long before the headlights shed a lumen on them.

As if staring at the display wasn't dangerous enough, I snapped a few hundred million pictures of those liquid crystals. Maybe it wasn't too much of a distraction, since I never actually crashed. Maybe it's a safety feature after all.

Look at how much farther the nightvision can see than even the 5-series' powerful high-beams.

The Ford Taurus' right tires looked to be a little underinflated, but what's hottest is its exhaust. Look how it's reflecting heat on the cold pavement.

The Honda Element obviously has its defroster on. And looking at the even temperatures of its tires, it's a four-wheel drive model.

Checking up on your spouse? This Integra has been parked for some time - it's cold, so your significant other has been home for a while.; Compare that to the Zephyr below.

This Zephyr has been sitting for a while, but there's still lots of heat left in the glass and tires.

If you were wondering whether the Lexus GS was rear-wheel drive, here's your clue - look at the amount of heat in those rear tires compared to the Zephyr's.

So, you want to reduce your heating bills this winter? Look at your house and you can see really quickly where the heat is escaping. In the house on the right, there are some big leaks in the entrance, at the peak of the roof, and above the upstairs window on the left.; Time to call the contractor who did the insulation!

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