LED Matrix, OLED swarm and Laser Diode are all expressions that most of us know nothing about but the boffins at Audi, already world leaders in automotive lighting technology, certainly do. They are beavering away at developing lighting systems for future Audi models.
Possibly the most innovative of the above mentioned is the OLED Swarm. No, not some sort of alien bee attack but rather a lighting effect (Organic Light Emitting Diodes, to be precise) that turns the rear of the car into a large illuminated surface on which many pinpoints of light fluctuate like, well, a swarm alien of bees. Movements of the red dots follow the movement of the car so, if the vehicle is turning right then the swarm will flow that way too. The faster the car is driven the more they dash about and so on. Every action of the car has a reaction from the LEDs. The idea is that following drivers can gauge their own actions appropriately. At first look it all seems to be a distraction rather than a help but there is clearly some serious intent behind it, so we’ll see.
This concept of seemingly transient light has also been applied on a slightly simpler scale in new, more advanced indicator lights that appear to perform a wiping movement from the inside outwards, making them more noticeable than even the latest LED indicator systems. The wipe is achieved by a horizontal row of LEDs that are illuminated in successive blocks.
LED headlamps are already in use but are set to evolve thanks to Audi’s new Matrix Beam Technology. This groups together a number of individual diodes backed by reflectors which provide targeted illumination without the need of a swivelling mechanism – the lights simply switch on or off or are dimmed to suit. These headlights get the information they need from a camera, from the navigation system and from additional sensors. If the camera detects other vehicles or built-up area lights ahead the appropriate sector of the headlight is faded out. They can also vary the illumination according to the weather conditions.
Lights requiring even greater intensity than headlamps may reap the benefit of advanced laser technology in future Audi models. Engineers are developing a rear fog light that uses a laser diode to project a bright, clear red line onto the road surface if visibility is moderately good. The width of this line depends on how far behind the following car is travelling. In fog or spray, the laser beam strikes the water droplets in the air and makes them visible; the laser rear fog light then takes the form of a large warning triangle. The benefits to drivers are obvious. There is a case for saying that enough is enough when it applies to technology but what price road safety?