Headlights have been part of car designs pretty much since the early development of automobiles. An automotive service technician will check a vehicle’s headlights as readily as its tires—because broken headlights can pose as much of a safety risk as any other dysfunctional part of a vehicle.
Audi’s Eyes of the Vehicle
Audi is carving out a niche for itself as the pre-eminent vehicle lighting designer. They were in fact the first company to put LED driving lights into cars, something which is now commonplace. Now, they have built a Lighting Assistance Centre at their headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany, in order to work on new advances. Below the LAC they’ve built the Lichtkanal, a 120 meter driveable tunnel made for testing out new headlight designs.
Audi’s lighting concept is that car headlights are more than just illumination devices, they are, in fact, the “eyes” of the vehicle. Audi has integrated onboard sensors, cameras and radar into their lighting systems, making them fully aware of the conditions outside of the vehicle.
The company’s Matrix headlights, which emit less heat, use up less energy and work 10 times faster than regular bulbs, are a prime example of the “eyes” concept in action. They can light up to warn pedestrians, dim to avoid blinding oncoming traffic and even anticipate turns in the road.
BMW and Lasers
When BMW was producing the i8 plug-in hybrid, Audi was making the special-edition R8 LMX. Both vehicles incorporated laser lighting systems. There was a bit of a battle to see which luxury automaker would be the first to get a car with such a lighting system into the showrooms, and BMW won.
There are some very interesting features built into this new laser illumination system. They include:
- Use of GPS data to change the direction of the headlights based on the curvature of the road
- Lights that activate when sensors detect people or animals too close to the road
- Self-dimming lights for when cars are detected coming in the opposite direction
Have a look at the concept for BMW’s laser light system, back before auto sales training graduates had a chance to sell it to customers and mechanic program graduates had a chance to fix it in their garages:
Bulb Out Warning Systems
While drivers always had a way to tell if their lights were on or off, these devices didn’t indicate if the bulb itself was burnt out or not. That changed in the 1970s, and since then, “bulb out” indicators have been a standard part of vehicle dashboards.
At first, fibre optic cables were used to bring the actual light from the headlights or tail lights to the indicators. Now, the warning system is based on amperage (electrons through a conductor). If the system sees that the current has stopped flowing through the circuit, this indicates that the bulb has burnt out.
What do you think is the next step in head light advancement?