The car light has developed rapidly over the past decades. But the possibilities of LED, OLED and digitization are far from being exhausted.
In the past two decades, Audi has repeatedly ignited evolutionary stages in lighting technology. LED, matrix, laser light, wiper flasher or projector technology have provided more functions and safety and at the same time sharpened the brand's design identity. The company intends to remain true to this tradition in the future and to further develop its headlights, daytime running lights and reflectors. The Ingolstadt-based company sees great potential in LED and OLED technology as well as the digitization of light, which will open up many new possibilities in functionality, communication and design.
Light as a means of communication
The introduction of the digital matrix light and the digital OLED are considered to be important evolutionary stages in the recent past at Audi. Among other things, this digitalization has ushered in a change of perspective for the developers: “Up to now, it was about light for the driver so that he has optimal light. And now it's really going in the direction of visual communication, in order to enter into communication with other road users, with pedestrians, with cyclists, ”says Stephan Berlitz, head of the lighting development department at Audi.
An already established and quite simple example of this light communication is the wiper indicator, which, through its animation, illustrates the turn request in a universally understandable way. The digital matrix LED headlights that Audi introduced in the E-Tron electric SUV in 2019, however, allow significantly more options. It has a chip the size of a fingernail with 1,3 million pixels, which, when illuminated by high-performance LEDs, can even project high-resolution black and white videos onto walls. Here, the user already has the option of choosing between different sequences for locking and unlocking.
Warning notices on the road
That may sound like a gimmick, but technology offers far-reaching opportunities for interaction and security. A possible example would be the projection of navigation instructions onto the lane, which not only clearly specifies the direction for the driver, but at the same time could make the turning request and the precise direction of travel clear to other road users. Warnings for other road users can also be projected onto the road with high-resolution headlights. The lighting designers have changed their focus accordingly. Instead of just designing light objects, they are now working on new forms of lighting language.
The number of variable light points will also increase with daytime running lights, which, in addition to more striking signatures in the front, will also increase the potential for customization. There will not only be light signatures that differ according to type within a series or that adapt to the current driving style, but also take into account the individuality of the driver. "In the future, digitalization will even allow customers to express their own light signature and personal taste," says Audi's top lighting designer César Muntada.
Digitization will also have a say in the design of future rear lights, which should also allow more individualization and more communication. The lighting technology of the future at the rear will be the flexible and digital OLED. The division of its flat and homogeneous light surface into small, individually controllable elements - whose light intensity can be regulated and which can also be switched off individually - opens up new degrees of freedom in design and new possibilities for communication.
The latest evolutionary step in series production in OLED development is marked by the rear lights of the Q5, which was revised this year. Here Audi has increased the number of individually controllable elements to 18. Thanks to this relatively high number of controllable segments, several strikingly different light signatures can be displayed. When purchasing the Q5, Audi initially allows customers to choose between three different signatures. An additional signature is displayed in the rear light when the driver changes to dynamic mode. However, the technology is not only used for vanity, but can also be used for new security features. If, for example, a vehicle approaches a Q5 waiting at the traffic lights from behind within less than two meters, all OLED segments are automatically activated as a warning. This is also a simple example of car-to-x communication that is becoming increasingly important.
Symbols in the tail light
As with the front, the resolution will also increase with the OLEDs, which are predestined for rear light applications. In the Q5, the rear lights consist of 3 x 6 controllable elements. Audi is already working on taillights with significantly more individually controllable points. These could be used to display warning triangles or exclamation marks, for example. At the same time, the designers are thinking about developing a universal language of symbols for further warning notices. If authorities are open to such new approaches and laws are adapted accordingly, more safety could be brought to the streets.
The OLEDs currently used are still rigid glass plates. But the designers' wish is to use OLED to go more into three-dimensionality and create sculptures in the future. With thin glass technologies, Audi wants to pave the way to this next OLED level. The goal: to cover the rear end with this new lighting technology. This further increases the possibilities for personalization and communication, which should then also serve for communication for more safety in road traffic. Future OLEDs could thus develop into a sculptural display at the rear.