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Holy race lasers, Batman! Audi’s R18 Le Mans hybrid racecar has lasers … for headlights

A racecar that looks like the Batmobile with lasers on it? Seven-year-old me is very, very excited. But, really, there couldn’t be a better car to use the new lighting technology than Audi’s new Le Mans racer the R18 e-tron quattro.

I don’t just mean that frivolously either. One of the big challenges of endurance racing is that you have to travel at race speeds at night. Low light not only makes it hard to see the track ahead of you, and drains your mental energy, it also drastically limits peripheral vision. That can be a terrifying proposition at 120 mph.

All this makes lighting a surprisingly important factor for endurance racers. Laser light is an important step forward. Laser lights work by diffusing two laser beams through a diffusing lens to create an elliptical light source, rather than the point light source we are familiar with from lasers.

The critical advantage of laser headlights is that the illumination they produce doesn’t dissipate nearly as quickly as that from traditional or even LED headlamps.

The other big advantage of laser lights is the type of illumination they produce. The closer a headlight can mimic the sort of light produced by the sun, the more effective it is. Our eyesight is understandably geared towards working in sunlight. And so even a very bright light that produces light in a different wavelength than the sun won’t illuminate nearly as well.

Laser lights can nearly perfectly mimic the ‘color temperature’ produced by the sun. This is a huge advantage is night racing, where the ability to see the track with the same clarity as you would during the day could shave time off of a lap.

This fits with the overall goals of the R18 e-tron, which seeks not just to go fast, but to go fast efficiently. As we reported recently, the R18 already makes use of two different hybrid systems and a high efficiency turbo diesel race engine. So anything that helps the car make use of the speed it already has is a big advantage.

It will be interesting to see how all this efficiency fairs when it comes to actual racing, but, given that it looks like the Batmobile, I am optimistic. 

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