In separate instances I've seen deer, a brown bear, and a family of turkeys all crossing the road in upstate New York. Nothing is worse than driving around a curve and suddenly seeing something furry moving across your lane. In each instance I was able to hit the brakes in time, with the bear being the one I came closest to hitting, and all of these occurrences happened during daylight hours.
It might've been worse at night, as car headlights point straight ahead, which isn't very helpful when you're rounding a dark curve. The engineers at Ford's Research and Innovation Centre in Aachen, Germany are working on this problem with two solutions.
First off, their Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System uses GPS coordinates, cameras and software to understand the configuration of the road ahead. The GPS coordinates key in to existing map information and the cameras actually recognize both lane markings and road signs; the result is that the headlights "know" when you're at an intersection, curve, roundabout etc. and cast light in the relevant directions, giving you a better view of what's around you.
But it's the second feature, called Spot Lighting, that's really cool. An infrared camera in the car's grill looks out for heat signatures, i.e. living creatures, activates a separate light to track and illuminate them, and even activates a secondary separate light to draw a stripe alongside them. It's sort of like you've got someone with night-vision goggles riding shotgun, painting any creatures in the vicinity with a pair of powerful flashlights.
Here's how these systems look in action:
While it appears the road-mapping trick is nearly market-ready—"We expect this technology to be available for customers in the near term," the company writes—the Spot Lighting feature is still in the pre-development phase.