Automotive lighting is probably the oldest electricity powered application found on nearly any car. The job of the lights is to illuminate the road and signal other drivers that there is a car in front of them or braking. Wrong.
New technologies have enabled lighting applications to perform new tasks and do a lot more than just emit light – in the automotive segment this equals tons of new opportunities to build innovative lighting solutions for front lighting, rear lighting, side lighting and interior lighting.
Looking at the most common lighting technologies we can segment the market in halogen, xenon and LED. According to a recent report from Research and Markets the global automotive lighting market is expected to reach $33.7 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 6.7% during 2015-2020.
Among all technologies LED has the most growth potential, supported by increasing sales of lightweight vehicles worldwide, growing automobile industry, increasing LED penetration and focus on energy efficiency. The comparably high costs of LEDs and the high R&D expenses however keep growth expectations limited – at least for the near term future.
Besides all pros and cons LEDs are the lighting technology of choice for new innovations and the longterm future. The reasons are the high capabilities and the flexibility of LED lights in different automotive lighting applications.
In the area of head lights functionality and safety are the most important concerns. Adaptive bend lighting is already a well-established feature for modern cars and helps to illuminate curves based on the steering angle. However in combination with navigation it is possible to improve the adaptive bend light and to teach it to illuminate corners before the driver is turning the steering wheel.
While this can be achieved with most modern lighting technologies LEDs allow for additional innovations. The key for nearly all of those is the way LED lamps are constructed. Semiconductor based head lamps use multiple LEDs which can be controlled individually and compose to one bright light beam. This allows to build always-on high beams which can cut out oncoming traffic by turning down individual LEDs.
This feature uses sensors and cameras which gain further importance as developments like the laser light invented by Osram and deployed e.g. in the BMW i8 is able to create a full beam with 600 meters range. Light with such high intensity needs to be combined with reliable traffic detection to prevent the blinding of other drivers.
To create this impressive laser spot light the beams of high-performance diodes are directed towards a small phosphor plate which transforms the beams into white and highly intense light. The laser spot is used when driving over 70kmph and if the front camera detects no oncoming traffic.
In combination with infrared cameras it’s also possible to illuminate objects and pedestrians with targeted LED light beams. Higher costs for LEDs are less of a concern in those modern applications as the sensor and processing power which is necessary increases expenses anyway.
Another big advantage of LEDs in automotive lighting is the design flexibility they offer. While this might only be secondary for headlights it is very important within tail and interior lighting. The next big thing for tail lights might be OLED as this technology solves the cost problem of the LED and PCB as OLED modules are more cost efficient, especially in terms of mounting them in the lamp. In addition OLEDs are more compact and offer more design freedom.
However there are still several challenges especially within the production process of automotive OLEDs which slow down widespread adoption.
Finally there is the interior lighting – this segment is often neglected however it is gaining more and more importance. One reason are again new possibilities created through the introduction of LEDs. Research results in the area of human centric lighting show that it is possible to fight fatigue with cold white light while warmer light helps to calm us down. Modern vehicles are capable of detecting fatigue and could soon be able to adjust the interior light in order to support the drivers concentration. Adaptable light could further be used to calm drivers down if they are stressed or drive aggressively.
Another trend that will increase the importance of interior lighting is the autonomous driving car. While we may still have to wait for a couple more years until self-driving cars are technologically mature enough to penetrate the market we should think about situations in which car drivers are only passengers. This is already the case e.g. for car sharing platforms. Interior lighting that adapts to personal preferences and supports passengers to use time while traveling in a vehicle efficiently will require new solutions and ideas.
A trend that is already affecting luxury cars and starts to penetrate the market today is exterior ambient lighting. The lights which are commonly integrated into door handles, underbody and side mirrors are used for design purposes and to help owners to find and enter their car in the dark.
To put it in a nutshell, future success in automotive lighting depends on the effective application of high-tech LED lighting in combination with beautiful design and justifiable pricing. If you need support in order to achieve this balance feel free to contact our EBV Lightspeed experts here and to take a look at our Lightspeed website here.
Watch the video below to get an impression on how the laser light in the BMW i8 works – and how design is mentioned as one of the most important features at the end.