Five amazing headlamp breakthroughs coming soon

Published: 29 April 2015

Audi OLED concept model

► Audi's next-gen lighting tech
► Five future trends examined
► Some are close to production

Automotive lighting is getting smarter. Advanced design studios and engineering laboratories the world over are cooking up the kind of science fiction tech that could render even today's most advanced adaptive headlights obsolete within the next half-decade.

One carmaker making larger strides than most is Audi. Between now and 2019 it plans to invest €24bn (£17.5bn) into new production lines, models and tech. Some 90% of the innovations arising from this are expected to be electronics related, amongst which lighting technology will play a major part.

Already Ingolstadt is using daytime running lights as a key identifier (for the brand and individual models), brake lights that pulse during emergency stops and sequential indicators that illuminate in the direction of travel.

That's nothing, however, compared to what's around the corner...

1) All-round innovation

Audi OLED concept

Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are the next big thing. They’ll be incorporated into every panel to guide you to the door handles at night. Laser rear lights will project a red line onto the road behind, encouraging others to keep their distance, becoming a floating hazard triangle in heavy rain or fog.

What are OLEDs?

OLED car rear lamps

Actually they’re not the next big thing, they’re the next small thing. They use illuminating molecular paste – as used by smartphones and TVs – sandwiched between two panes of glass, which takes up a fraction of the space presently required. Expect to see OLED rear lights in production ‘within three years’.

2) Matrix laser headlights

Audi laser matrix lights

Next-generation laser headlights will use microscopic reflectors like a movie projector to create 420,000 individual pixels of light. This enables a ‘super precise’ anti-dazzle highbeam, capable of indicating the width of the car on the road ahead, highlighting pedestrians and even projecting navigation instructions on to the turn you need to take. 

3) Swarm lighting

Audi swarm lighting concept

Dynamic lighting elements already exist. Now imagine a swirling, animated rear lighting ‘swarm’ that is constantly in motion, suggesting acceleration and direction of travel as well as braking and indicating – in such an intuitive manner it improves following drivers’ reaction times. Clever, but complex, and only a theoretical demo right now.

4) Laser foglights

Audi laser foglights

Fog becomes a canvas - concentrated beams can etch a warning signal onto the mist behind the car, or a boundary line onto the road to warn following drivers to stay at a safe distance.

5) Where we’re going we don’t need headlights…

Move further into the future – decades rather than years – and Audi believes we’ll no longer rely on individual cars to light the way ahead. Instead car-to-car comms technology will allow multiple vehicles to cooperate. Find yourself on your own? Then why not launch a drone to spot hazards instead. Great scot!

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count