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.

Product Review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

With enough tech to make villains jealous, the Volkswagen Jetta punches above its class as a forward-thinking sedan. Spacious, comfortable, and efficient, the Jetta is a refined offering. German refinement comes with a serious attitude.
Cars

Protect yourself and your ride with our favorite dash cams

Dashboard cameras can assist drivers in car accident claims, settle speeding ticket disputes, and even catch glimpses of incoming meteors, among other things. Here, we've compiled a list of the most noteworthy offerings available.
Wearables

Fossil made a smartwatch in 2004, and it’s part of a new brand retrospective

Fossil has been making watches for 35 years, and to celebrate the anniversary, it has a new retrospective exhibit complete with the first smartwatch it made — the Wrist Net watch from 2004.
Movies & TV

Netflix confirms it won’t be a part of Apple’s new video-streaming service

Netflix has confirmed that subscribers to Apple's new video streaming service won't have the option to view Netflix content on it. Apple is set to unveil its new TV service next week.
Cars

The 2019 Toyota C-HR gains a popular tech feature as its price comes down

Toyota has updated the C-HR, its entry-level crossover, by adding an entry-level trim level to the lineup. Every model regardless of price also comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay.
Cars

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe is an exercise in form-over-function design

Porsche expanded its lineup of SUVs with a swoopier evolution of the Cayenne named Cayenne Coupe. Don't let the name fool you: it still has four doors. It stands out with a fastback-like roofline that's lower than the Cayenne's.
Cars

Formula 1 is putting data in the driver’s seat, and not all racers are happy

After a single weekend of racing, a Formula 1 pit crew typically pulls around 2TB of data from the car. Everything, from tire pressure to the temperature of the track, is recorded and analyzed in the name of boosting performance -- and not…
Product Review

Chris is the virtual co-pilot phone-obsessives need in their car

Driving while using your phone is dangerous, and often illegal. Meet Chris, the digital assistant for your car that wants to help keep your hands off your phone, and your eyes on the road.
Cars

Tesla revives its referral program with chances to win a Roadster

Tesla has revived its referral program that ended in February because of cost pressures. This time around the perks aren't quite as diverse, though it does offer regular chances to win a Roadster or Model Y.
Cars

Tesla ends scheduled servicing because electric cars need less maintenance

Tesla will longer offer scheduled maintenance plans, switching to an "as needed" model. This reflects the fact that electric cars need less regular maintenance than gasoline or diesel cars.
Cars

The go kart-like Mini Cooper will soon add zero emissions to its resume

Mini is in the final stages of developing an electric version of the Cooper. The 2020 Cooper SE will receive powertrain components from the BMW i3, including a 181-horsepower electric motor and battery technology.
Product Review

By adding features, tech, and all-wheel drive, Mazda puts the 3 in a class of one

Since its introduction in 2003, Mazda’s compact Mazda3 has been a mainstay of the brand’s driver-oriented strategy. Mazda now plans to move upmarket, and the all-new 2019 Mazda3 offers some clues about how that’s going to work.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

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's fun to gawk!
Cars

Tesla Model 3 vulnerability exposed at Pwn2Own; hackers take home the car

A Tesla Model 3 vulnerability was exposed at the Pwn2Own hacking competition. The hackers, who were able to display a message on the electric vehicle's internet browser, won $35,000 and took home the car.