“Lighting is the new jewelry,” said David Hulick, global OEM SSL marketing director at Osram Sylvania. It’s something that reinforces a brand’s design DNA and “is part of a car’s identity.”
Indeed, almost every automaker has some sort of signature lighting element, whether it’s BMW’s angel eyes, Lexus’ use of LED daytime-running lamps or the Dodge brand’s bold “racetrack” tail-light assemblies. However, aside from vehicular styling, there’s so much more going on in this field than most drivers would ever expect.
Highlighting the latest advancements in automotive illumination, global supplier Osram showcased some of its newest products, shedding light on this often overlooked space.
LEDing the Way
From acetylene-burning lanterns to old-school sealed-beams bulbs, from halogen lamps to high-intensity discharge assemblies, automotive lighting technology has come a long way over the last hundred years. And it continues to advance in the 21st century, particularly as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) become more affordable.
Sam Cribari, product marketing manager for automotive exterior LED at Osram said one of its main goals is “bringing cost-effective LED lighting to the mass market.” He added that they’ve been focused on making these systems more affordable at the light-emitter level, which is the most basic component.
LEDs have numerous benefits compared to more traditional lighting solutions, such as halogen. Some of these upsides include massive power savings, greater design freedom and better overall efficiency. However, cost is still an issue, as LED lighting systems require additional components.
Cribari said they need careful thermal management, special electronic controls and more, items that up the price tag. Still, these are challenges they’re working to address.
Michael Godwin, director of visible LED products at Osram said that despite the advancements made with LED technology in recent years, “I would be really hard pressed to say halogen is going away.” This is because it’s an incredibly cost-effective solution.
Still, Godwin said we’ve reached “an inflection point where LEDs are starting to take off,” both outside and inside vehicles. LED cabin lighting has become immensely popular in recent years, with manufacturers bringing the technology to even entry-level products.
The Differences are Clear
To plainly show the differences between its various lighting technologies Osram had several demonstrator vehicles on hand. A 2016 Ford Explorer was equipped with LED low-beam lights and halogen highs. A new Ford F-150 featured an all-LED array while a European-spec Audi A7 exhibited the company’s most advanced lighting technology.
The updated Explorer is the first vehicle in its segment to benefit from LED forward lighting technology. In practice, this SUV illuminates the way with pure, clean light that’s homogenous, meaning it’s free from any streaking or discolored patches that could cause driver distraction.
As for its high-beams, the 2016 Explorer relies on halogen bulbs. They provide a lot of light but look less natural than the LEDs, with a yellow tinge to them.
Stepping up, the technology available in Ford’s new F-150 provides full LED lighting. Each of the truck’s lamps contains two arrays containing four individual LEDs. One of these assemblies handles low beams and the other high.
This arrangement imbues the pickup with clear, powerful, well-controlled light. Additionally, the color temperature is also quite high, meaning it has a very pure, whitish appearance, much like daylight.
Finally, the European-spec Audi A7 Osram had on hand was equipped with the company’s adaptive matrix LED headlamps, the pinnacle of automotive lighting technology today. This is arguably the most impressive automotive lighting system on the market today.
Rather than having traditional low- and high-beams, this Audi is equipped with an array of 25 separate LEDs per headlamp. With so many light sources, engineers were able to make them do some pretty remarkable things.
With a forward-facing camera, the car can scan the road ahead, keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic, vehicles driving ahead of you and even road signs. Remarkably, as this system detects targets like these it can power down individual LEDs, dimming just that portion of light field. It’s remarkable to see in action.
If another car approaches one of these Audi A7s, the headlamps can dip their lights to avoid blinding the other driver. If you get too close to the vehicle you’re following, it adjusts the light pattern to keep you from getting dazzled by reflected light from your own headlamps.
But even more impressive than all of this is this system’s ability to detect street signs. The LEDs are granular enough to dim the light being shone on a speed-limit marker so the reflective paint doesn’t blind you. Just the small portion of the light field corresponding to the sign gets dimmed while the rest remains at full power. This is perhaps the most impressive aspect of these adaptive matrix LED headlights.
Regrettably, this system is forbidden fruit in America right now; it’s not approved for use by NHTSA. However, this may change in the coming years.
Curiously, European vehicles are allowed to have high beams that are a whopping three times more powerful than what we can in North America. The Audi A7’s lamps glow with the light of a second sun, delivering 225,000 retina-searing candelas.
Not surprisingly, the future of automotive lighting is bright and Osram’s demonstration of its latest wares was an illuminating experience.
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