Part car, part projector: Illuminating Audi’s futuristic lighting technologies

Audi Lighting Tech Demo

While most of the automotive technology we cover resides inside a car, there is a whole host of tech on the forward and aft of the cabin that most of us spend a considerable  amount of time staring at, and very little time appreciating. We’re referring of course to lighting technology, and in this space, no company has applied technology more liberally than Audi.

The German company employees dozens of state-of-the-art lighting technologies, including some that haven’t made it past prototypes or onto roads in the United States yet. Here’s a closer look at how they work, why they’re integral to future automotive design, and when you can expect to see them lighting up that next dark country road.

Adaptive headlights

Adaptive headlights are becoming commonplace in today’s automotive marketplace. Audi’s adaptive headlights are a bit more complex than some of its competitors, which simply swivel with the turning of the steering wheel.

Audi adaptive headlights not only swivel up to 15 degrees but also adjust based upon various vehicle parameters. Audi’s vehicle lighting computer looks at road speed, steering angle, and yaw rate to adjust the aim of the headlights accordingly. These lighting changes can seem undetectable to the driver but can significantly increase road visibility.

 Audi advanced lighting tech

Additionally, Audi’s adaptive headlights use a forward facing video camera to read not only oncoming headlights but also the taillights of vehicles on the road. The lighting computer will adjust the headlight range to optimize for the driver’s forward visibility while simultaneously limiting the effect on other drivers.

Distinguishing its adaptive headlight system from the rest of the industry further, the Audi MMI infotainment system will send satellite navigation information to the lighting computer as well. The lighting computer will again adjust lighting based upon the type of roadway, reacting differently when driving onto an onramp, on a curvy section of road, or even for left or right-hand driving, should a driver go from, say, France into England.

LED headlights

Audi’s LED headlights, which are separate from its LED daytime running lights, are available on models ranging from its high-performance R8 supercar down to one of its entry-level models, the A3.

LED headlights are beneficial for drivers for several reasons. Firstly, LED headlights are low maintenance and are designed to last the life of the vehicle. Secondly, they produce light with a color temperature of 5,500 Kelvin, which resembles daylight. This makes LED headlights much less tiring for the eyes. Additionally, LEDs consume five percent less energy than high-efficiency Xenon bulbs.

Audi LED lights

Currently Audi uses varying sizes and levels of intensity in its LED lighting technology. The daytime running LED system is comprised of 22 white LEDs and 22 yellow. On the A8 for example, only 10 lens modules are used for the low-beam headlights. The high-beam headlights, or “brights,” however, only require two four-chip LEDs that are intensified with a free-form reflection system.

Matrix Beam

Audi Matrix LED headlights, or “Matrix Beam” as Audi refers to it, are the future of headlight technology. Matrix Beam, though, is not currently legal in the US, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Matrix Beam uses dozens of individual lighting segments, projected forward by lenses and reflectors. Depending on the situation, these segments can be dimmed or simply turned off. This, for instance, allows the light appear to be swiveling without requiring a mechanism to do so. The inside or outside segments simply dim, shifting the focus point to one side or the other.

Matrix Beam Demo

Much like the adaptive headlights mentioned above, Matrix Beam takes into account satellite navigation location, as well as onboard video camera images to adjust lighting. The system is so precise, however,  that Matrix Beam is capable of illuminating “the areas between several vehicles in complex situations,” according to an Audi press release, which is demonstrated in the photo in the above photo gallery with the man holding a flashlight and two beams of light on either side of him.

Matrix Beam is not yet legal in the US simply because the headlight regulations were, according to an Audi spokesman, “written long before software and sophisticated sensors were considered important elements of automotive lighting.” Audi is working alongside regulators to interpret these laws in order to allow Matrix Beam on future Audi cars bound for the States.

Laser taillights

Audi Laser TaillightsIt’s not as scary as it sounds. Essentially, the system consists of a laser diode that projects a line on the pavement behind the Audi, indicating a safe stopping distance for the vehicle following it. We were concerned this might be too unusual, jarring, or distracting for drivers, but an Audi spokesman assured us that Audi is “not about to advance technologies that would make distractions or safety worse, and regulators won’t permit it if that’s the case.”

An additional benefit of laser taillights is that in foggy conditions, the laser beam strikes the water droplets in the air, making them visible. The laser line is then seen as a large warning triangle.

OLED technology

OLED stands for “organic light emitting diode.” These lights are made from organic materials, unlike LEDs, which are made from semiconductor crystals. OLED material can be used on all parts of the vehicle for both safety lighting and non-essential visual detail. OLED is both versatile and extremely lightweight, making it ideal for future high-efficiency designs.

Audi Swarm Lights

Audi recently showed a video (located below) of an OLED lighting concept called “The Swarm” where the entire back of the vehicle was coated in OLEDs and simulates taillights and turn signal indicators.

In addition to simple lighting, Audi imagines future OLEDs could be used on vehicle bodylines as well. Lighting up as the vehicle nears another car in the dark or  illuminating features such as door handles.

Lastly, AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) have already been used by Audi as a stunning weight-saving technology in its R18 e-Tron Quattro electric racecar. Audi used an AMOLED screen to replace the review mirror as the R18 has no rear porthole.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

Volkswagen’s next-generation lights will keep you safer, look good doing it

Volkswagen's new smart LED headlights, called IQ.Light, don't just light up the road in front of you to keep you, other drivers, and pedestrians safe. They also look dang good while doing it.
Product Review

Audi's new A8 is so sophisticated and serene, it practically deletes potholes

The 2019 Audi A8’s outline looks promising: Level 3 autonomous driving capability, haptic-feedback infotainment screens, rear-wheel steering, Matrix LED headlights and OLED taillights, plus a predictive suspension.
Cars

Are European-style self-dimming and glare-free headlights coming to the U.S.?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposes to allow adaptive LED headlights on vehicles sold in the U.S. Adaptive LEDs automatically lower headlight intensity when they detect pedestrians or oncoming vehicles.
Cars

At 503 mph, Turbinator II is the world’s fastest wheel-driven vehicle

The Turbinator II is a four-wheel drive streamliner powered by a 5,000-horsepower helicopter engine, and it just achieved 503.332 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. That's an unofficial record for a wheel-driven car.
Cars

Lyft has a new fixed-price subscription plan for frequent passengers

Lyft wants you to save money by using rideshare services instead of owning a car. The new Lyft All-Access Plan monthly rideshare trip subscription includes 30 rides a month with a small discount for additional trips.
Cars

Could the next Mazda3 boast a fuel-saving breakthrough in engine tech?

Mazda released a teaser video that likely previews the next Mazda3. Expected to make its global debut at the L.A. auto show, the next 3 will wear a more curvaceous design and offer one of the most advanced engines in the automotive…
Cars

Workhorse takes on diesel with lighter, cheaper NGEN-1000 electric delivery van

Ohio-based Workhorse Group claims its new NGEN-1000 electric delivery van costs the same as a conventional diesel van and can haul a similar amount of cargo. A lower curb weight makes this possible.
Cars

Forget transponders with Peasy’s nationwide pay-as-you-go toll service

Verra Mobility launched Peasy, a consumer highway and bridge toll payment service. Designed to be less hassle than managing traditional transponder or toll tag accounts, Peasy pays tolls as they are levied across most of the U.S.
Cars

Just 10 people will get to put this limited-edition Audi R8 in their garages

The 2018 Audi R8 V10 Plus Competition makes use of Audi's motor sports experience to turn up the performance dial. Decreased weight and increased aerodynamic downforce make this R8 a track monster.
Cars

Porsche’s all-electric Taycan sedan will cost less than a Panamera

Porsche's Mission E concept won't change much as it transitions to a production model named Taycan that's scheduled to arrive in 2019. That means the sedan will keep the sleek design and its 800-volt charging system.
Cars

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.
Cars

Tesla keeps promise with more affordable Model 3 with midrange battery pack

Tesla is keeping its promise of making the Model 3 gradually more affordable. The company released a new variant of the car with a mid-range, 260-mile battery option that's priced under the $50,000 mark.
Cars

The snake escapes: Ford’s 700-hp Mustang GT500 slithers online ahead of schedule

The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 will return in 2019 with over 700 horsepower, Ford confirmed at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. The GT500 will be the most powerful Ford production car ever.