Audi continues to pioneer new lighting technology with next-generation digital OLED debuting on the new Q5.

4 August, 2020


Audi has been experimenting with and refining new lighting technologies for years with stunning results. From Matrix LED headlights to laser light and everything in between, the brand has earned a reputation as a pioneer in the field, working with OLED technology as far back as 2012, when concepts such as The Swarm showed the stunning possibilities for automotive lighting of the future.

The brand’s latest development, digital OLED technology, which premiered in June on the new Q5, is now in series production and opens up a whole new range of new possibilities, offering tremendous versatility not seen before on production vehicles.

This new take on OLED organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) is more efficient, compact and versatile, offering significantly improved safety and is the first technology of its type to allow for personalisation of the taillight signature.
“Headlight technology has seen a rapid evolution at Audi in recent decades,” says Dr Werner Thomas, OLED technology project manager at Audi.

“In addition, we have been decisively driving the development of rear-lighting systems.” The latest milestone achievement sees Audi achieve another first, as the first automobile manufacturer to digitise the taillights. 

One of the great benefits of working with OLEDs is that their light is extremely homogeneous. It is infinitely dimmable and achieves very high contrast and can be split into segments. These segments are individually controllable and can develop diverse levels of brightness, with minimal gaps between the segments. The lighting unit does not require any reflectors, optical fibres or similar optics. This makes OLED units very efficient, lightweight and flat, which considerably increases design freedom.
An OLED lighting element is just one millimetre thick, compared to conventional LED of 20 to 30 millimetres. The energy requirement of an OLED is also significantly lower than that of LED optics if the latter are to achieve similar homogeneity. Audi’s OLED technology made its production debut in the rear lights of the Audi TT RS in 2016. Up to now, Audi models using OLED lighting technology have had up to four individually controllable, complex lighting segments that could be used for an individual, defined lighting design. 

Audi looked well into the future with The Swarm lighting concept.

The new Q5 uses three tiles of six units each –18 segments per lamp – which offer light designers a wealth of opportunities, using just one type of hardware. Q5 customers opting for digital OLED technology have a choice of three signatures in the taillights when purchasing their car. In the ‘dynamic’ Audi drive select mode, the lamps additionally switch to another signature. Also, animation effects such as coming-home/leaving-home lighting scenarios can be implemented, plus the dynamic flashing light has been integrated in the new lamp units as well. 

“Here [with Q5] the taillights turn into a kind of display on the outer shell, which will provide us with ample opportunities and prospects in terms of design, personalisation, communication and safety going forward,” says Dr Thomas.

In terms of increased safety, in the new Q5, Audi has implemented a proximity detection feature for the versions using digital OLED taillights. When another road user approaches a stationary Q5 from the rear, on de it gets to within two metres, all the OLED segments light up. When the Q5 starts to move, it returns to the original light signature. This is just an initial example of the vehicle’s car-to- x communication with its surroundings. 

In the future, more segments per taillight are conceivable, allowing for even greater personalisation of signature lighting. Think predefined symbols displayed to provide other road users with early warnings of hazards such as slippery roads or the tail ends of traffic jams. The possibilities with this technology are endless and will allow Audi designers incredible flexibility in designing the new generations of automotive lighting.