Polestar Owners Hack Adaptive Headlights Into Cars As NHTSA Drags Feet

Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) headlight systems are one of the coolest features found on modern cars. And, no, I’m not talking about simply flicking the high beams on and off when your vehicle detects an oncoming car. These adaptive headlights can change the trajectory of your headlight’s beam to avoid blinding oncoming drivers—well, if you’re not in the U.S., that is.

Polestar in particular has a very cool way of doing this. Polestar’s Pixel LED headlights are found in models like the Polestar 2, and while its hardware and vehicle software capabilities remain fairly modular around the world, its U.S. cars do not come with the feature activated because of federal vehicle safety regulations requiring a significant change in Polestar’s global hardware. So Polestar owners are taking it upon themselves to activate this feature with a special cable and some software.

Get Fully Charged

Adaptive headlight hack

Some Polestar owners are activating adaptive headlights on their cars even though they are not approved for use yet in the U.S.

A walkthrough first hit Polestar Forum last August as member aHolyDuck found a way to modify a control module within the car using a few pieces of software.

First, owners need to purchase a subscription to Volvo’s Polestar Tech Hub. This runs around $73 for three days of access and includes VIDA, which stands for Vehicle Information and Diagnostics for Aftersales. VIDA is software that interfaces with Volvo’s Diagnostic Communication Equipment (DiCE) hardware diagnostic tool. When paired together, it allows techs to perform diagnostic procedures, recalibrate modules, and more with virtually any Volvo built after 1999.

Next, while running a test with VIDA, aHolyDuck captured the traffic being transferred from the DiCE interface to VIDA using Wireshark, a packet analysis tool typically used by those in the IT field to diagnose network-based problems. The packet capture allowed the user to extract PINs for the Central Electronics Module (CEM) and Vehicle Connectivity Module (VGM).

These PINs are then used in conjunction with software called OrBit which allows the owner to program the CEM and activate region-locked features like the Pixel headlights.

 

One wrench in the gears, according to aHolyDuck, was that at least one of Polestar’s over-the-air updates has reset this feature but it could be reactivated using the same process. Another user reported that this process resulted in their VIN being “blacklisted as per Polestar engineering” when they took their car in for service.

So why do this? In short: it’s cool.

It’s fairly common for car enthusiasts to envy features and products found in other global markets. When I was big into the Volkswagen scene over a decade ago, I found myself dumping countless dollars into the hole of OEM+ and Euro-spec parts for my cars. The same goes for other brand cars I’ve owned over the years. But ADB headlights aren’t just for looks, they actually serve a purpose: not blinding oncoming drivers when your high beams are on.

Here’s what Polestar says about its Pixel headlights:

Leave the headlights on high beam. The smart, safety-enhancing Pixel LED technology adapts to light and weather conditions to provide an optimal view without blinding other drivers.

While Europe has had ADB headlights on its roads since 2012, the U.S. has been dragging its feet on this. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) formally issued a final ruling to approve the tech back in 2022, however, the NHTSA has not yet finalized a formal testing procedure for manufacturer compliance. Some automakers have begun shipping cars with the hardware for this tech, but it remains unused for Polestar, Hyundai, Tesla, Volkswagen, and other automakers who are shipping cars with unactivated hardware.

Even still, the standards drift from the Economic Commission for Europe’s regulations. For example, U.S. safety standards permit for much dimmer headlights (even with ADB). These discrepancies have seemingly made implementing the tech a bit more challenging for automakers that have existing compatible hardware already deployed in the U.S. fleet.

So for now, the only chance at getting ADB headlights in the U.S. is hacking away at your vehicle, at least if you own a Polestar, Ford F-150 Lightning, or a select few other cars that owners have figured out how to hack.