Ford Motor Co.'s new electronically sensored adaptive lighting system has eyes.

When the Lincoln MKS concept sedan eases into a curve, its light-emitting-diode panel in the front headlight assembly glows a soft white to follow the contour of the road, giving the driver a wide view of the dark.

The panels are at once a safety feature and a technological strike for Ford, says Mahendra Dassanayake, staff technical specialist and the man who helped develop the new lighting system.

It bests the rest on the basis of the LEDs, he says. For example, Audi AG uses adaptive light for cornering for some models. BMW AG's adaptive light control has swiveling projector lamps for the same purpose.

But Ford, he says, has something new.

“We take electronically addressable light that works much faster,” Dassanayake says, stressing that Ford has used LEDs in some of its bank light fixtures in the past but never like this. “What we have is a fewer number of light sources but designed optically, so that we can shine light directly and with less energy. It is now much more cost effective to do this.”

“The way the optics in this system work has not been seen in the optics world,” he says.

The steering wheel sensors kick in as the vehicle begins a turn, leaving the main high-output halogen alone to do its thing while light from the LEDs sequentially spreads across the unfolding road.

The sensor processes information from the vehicle's steering angle, speed and lateral movement to talk to the LED panels.

“The whole intent is for the projector (main) light to continue to illuminate the road while the LEDs splash light around the corner,” says Don Bilger, a Ford engineer who also worked on the system.

Lincoln's '06 Aviator uses current adaptive technology, which mechanically adjusts the headlights to put them in line with the road, like a roving flashlight, leaving small parts of the big picture without illumination.

The price — and cost — of Ford's new lighting is yet to be determined.

“But it will not be so expensive as to be impractical,” Dassanayake says, adding that the feature could be available by 2009 “or sooner.”

Options packages on other models for adaptive lighting vary. Audi, for example, charges $2,500 for a technology package option on its '06 A6 that includes the adaptive xenon lights.

On the '06 BMW 5-Series, xenon adaptive headlights are a standalone option for $800, described on Edmunds.com as “…high- and low-beam headlights with auto-leveling and Adaptive Light Control.”

The low-beam headlights swivel in the direction of the driver's intended path based on steering angle, vehicle speed and yaw rate.

But Ford is strident. It says the LEDs are the way to go — until pixilated lighting, a futuristic wave of car lighting that uses tiny adjustable mirrors as headlight reflectors, is made available.

“For now, this is a lot more cost effective,” Dassanayake says.