LEDs Light the Way for Automotive Industry

It’s a familiar experience — it’s late at night and you’re driving along a dark, curvy road. You take a turn around a corner and all of a sudden an oncoming car practically blinds you with its high beam lights.

Thanks to the help of LEDs, that problem could soon be eradicated entirely. LEDs are quietly heading up a revolution in the automotive industry, leading to new vehicle designs and providing enhanced nighttime vision and safety for drivers.

There’s no mistaking the glow of an LED headlamp in the newer automotive models, especially in comparison to the yellow tinge of their older counterparts. LEDs are even serving as identifiers and differentiators between different makes and models.

For instance, there’s no mistaking the distinct shape of Audi headlights:


Or the four circles on BMW models:


Because they are smaller, run cooler and use less energy than traditional light bulbs and standard automotive headlamps, LEDs are catching on in the automotive industry — much like they are gaining popularity in commercial and residential uses.

But these LEDs aren’t just for looks and show.

For instance, when combined with cameras, these “smart” headlights are more than just a standard set of high beams and low beams. Instead, they can continuously alter light patterns to adjust to the immediate road and weather conditions. The system is so good at not shining light on vehicles traveling ahead of it that the high beam can remain on and adjust itself, even if eight cars are in front — giving nighttime drivers a better, safer experience.

If Americans are looking to reap the benefits of this sort of smart technology, they may have to wait a few years. Unfortunately, all cars sold in the United States must adhere to a specific light pattern, so all models are fitted with standard headlights.

Automakers are even projecting that a time will come when headlights will be able to project patterns like a foot path on the road to help pedestrians cross the street, or even lines to the left and right of the vehicle as it passes through a construction zone to avoid any hazards.

But until then, we can look in awe at the European cars and their “smart” headlights.

Cars Update – A Smarter LED Headlight, For Europe and the All-LED Mercedes

Mercedes new 2014 S-class features all LEDs

There has been a lot of activity surrounding autos and LEDs this May.  While manufacturers have been working on specific functionality like headlights, one manufacturer has totally eliminated incandescent from one of their models in favor of LEDs.

Europe is making strides with smarter headlights.  Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FMER) just announced a new research project with Osram, Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, Infineon, HELLA KGaA Hueck & Co. and Daimler.  The adaptive forward lighting system (AFS) project focuses on camera-controlled headlights that react to changing conditions such as objects like oncoming traffic, sidewalks, pedestrians and cyclists.  The project will integrate microelectronics and optoelectronics to develop a framework for a new class of energy-efficient LED headlights for traffic safety.

For example, the headlights in an AFS will feature high and low beams that can adapt to the speed of the vehicle. At high speeds, the range of light will automatically increase. In city conditions, the light will focus more broadly on sidewalks, pedestrians and cyclists. The AFS is completely electronic and will not rely on mechanical actuators.

Whether this type of technology will arrive in the US is already in question. Audi’s “matrix beam lighting” for headlights made its premier in 2011 in a concept car that included a camera that automatically detects nearby cars and pedestrians and reacts by dimming some of the bulbs for the high beam. But Audi already encountered a stop sign in the US.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108, states that headlights are not allowed to shine in a dynamic way.  Audi has since appealed to the NHTSA for an interpretation of the standard.  In the meantime, Audi offers a “high beam assistant” that just dims high beams for oncoming traffic for the US market.

Meanwhile, Mercedes Benz just announced that the new 2014 S-class models will feature all-LEDs for lighting – without an incandescent in sight. This makes Mercedes the first car manufacturer to go all-LED.  According to Mercedes, each car will use nearly 500 LEDs for the exterior and interior lighting.

For Further Reading

Automotive News, Audi’s next-gen LED headlights hit Washington speed bump, http://www.autonews.com/article/20130205/BLOG06/130209935#ixzz2TZxQREqr

LEDs Magazine, Osram leads research on LED-based adaptive headlamps for autos, http://ledsmagazine.com/news/10/5/7

Technabob.com, Mercedes S-Class Is the First Car without any Incandescent Light Bulbs, http://technabob.com/blog/2013/05/16/mercedes-s-class-no-light-bulbs/

LA Times, Mercedes-Benz unveils all-new 2014 S-Class, http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-autos-mercedes-2014-sclass-debut-20130515,0,3823865.story

Image Source: Mercedes 2014 S-class, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/pictures/egdh45kiid/all-wheel-drive/

Automotive Industry Fully Embraces LEDs

Audi with LED headlights

The automotive industry has embraced LED lighting.  LED headlights caused a sensation when Audi put full LED headlights in the A8 in 2008.  Since then, the automotive market has been drawn to LEDs for not only forward exterior illumination, but also brake lights and interior lighting including dashboard illumination, instrument clusters, and entertainment system controls.

LEDs have become part of the color scheme of the car interior and a significant part of how each manufacturer brands its cars.  LED-based lighting is in many 2012 cars such as BMWs, Infinities, Lexus, Toyotas, Fords, Chevys and even the Rolls Royce.  Audi even featured LED headlights in their 2012 Super Bowl commercial about vampires (they died as the headlights caught them around a campfire).

The main drivers for auto manufacturers are power efficiency and the way that LEDs work with a car’s electrical system that helps save fuel. For example, LED headlights are four times as efficient as halogen lamps and require the vehicle’s alternator to replenish less energy, saving fuel.  These benefits are good for the environment.  According to Audi, cars equipped with LED headlights accounted for a reduction of 25,000 tons of CO2 emissions in the first year of sales.

For Additional Reading:

LEDs Magazine, Audi’s LED headlights are key feature in Super Bowl ad, http://ledsmagazine.com/news/9/2/4

LEDs Magazine, Automotive industry embraces LED use for forward lighting, http://ledsmagazine.com/features/2/7/10