Lasers and Invisible Rain: Headlights Looking Forward

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We don’t think about them often, except when blinded by oncoming high-beams, but headlights have come a long way since they were literally lanterns with a reflecting mirror. After Cadillac integrated the first vehicle electric system in 1912, it took about 50 years until halogen bulbs were introduced and it is only recently that automotive lighting is changing again. Xenon and LED lights are already available in many new models but as the technology advances, the next innovations will be laser beams and computerized projectors.

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Experts expect that light-emitting diodes (LED) will become the dominant source of headlights for mass markets in coming years, along with organic (OLED) versions, which illuminate across their whole surface and eliminate the need for lenses. OLEDs for rear lights, turn signals and position lights are lighter, less energy-intensive, and take up little space. Automakers are already preparing for what will come after LEDs – laser beams!


Lasers need only tiny slits to emit powerful luminescence that BMW says are 1,000 times brighter than LEDs with half the power. For professionals in auto careers, this means new design possibilities, producing both low and high beams and potentially shining around corners, automatically dimming so not to glare oncoming cars. Lasers could also handle more complex functions, including:

  • A high beam that extends farther as speed increases
  •  A marking light to illuminate edges of the road and pedestrians while not blinding them
  •  A navigation beam that shows an arrow on the road to tell the driver it’s time to change lanes or take the next exit

As lasers are currently about 10 times as expensive as LED systems, students in car sales training should expect laser lights to start out only on premium cars. Some concept cars like this BMW i8 Spyder already feature this technology, redirecting and reflecting the lasers to avoid potential eye injury.

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Invisible Rain!

Drivers on BC roads are no strangers to the distracting glare of rain in the headlights. New technology developed by Intel and Carnegie Mellon University aims to make rain invisible using a camera behind a futuristic projector to identify raindrops and send the data to an internal computer. The processor guesses where the drops will fall, then blots out the bits of its projection where the raindrops are. The driver sees a light shining out without any rain.

It will take a powerful projector and extra expense to fit a camera, projector and processing unit inside the front of a car, but Intel thinks that an auto technician could see these inside new cars in the next decade. Take a look at this video to see how this “adaptive lighting” works!

Do you think these innovations will really make roads safer?

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