Automotive lighting technology enters a new phase with Digital Matrix LED technology, where light becomes more than light – but also a means of communication.
5 December, 2019
When the new Audi e-tron Sportback was debuted last month at the Los Angeles Automotive Show, it showcased a number of new automotive technologies, including the revolutionary Audi Digital Matrix LED.
This new lighting technology furthers the brand’s extensive work in the field providing even greater clarity and flexibility to this once humble automotive feature. No longer are a vehicle’s lights just there to illuminate the road ahead. Now, with the Digital Matrix LED, lights can also be utilised by the vehicle as a means of a communication, alerting other road users as to a driver or vehicle’s intentions.
Just as indicators show other road users where a vehicle intends to go, this new technology has the potential to take that concept much, much further.
One feature of this new system is the lane and orientation lighting for highways, which sees the headlights emit a carpet of light up to 50 metres long that brightly illuminates the driver’s current lane and adjusts dynamically during lane changes. Dark spots — areas, where the lighting is dimmed — show where the car is positioned in the lane. Regardless of the situation, the digital Matrix LED headlights produce this light ‘pathway’ with the extraordinary precision.
“We use the low beam to create curve lighting, city lighting, and highway lighting functions – and we do it even more precisely and harmoniously than ever before,” says Stephan Berlitz, head of development in lighting and vision innovations at Audi.
“The main headlights can exclude other vehicles from the beam of light even more precisely, to avoid blinding them.” The digital Matrix headlights are also capable of generating shapes or dynamic loops — animations that display geometric lighting patterns on the garage door or the ground, opening up a vast array of possibilities for the future.
The digital Matrix headlights are also capable of generating shapes or dynamic loops — animations that display geometric lighting patterns
This is opening up a whole new world because the car can now use its lighting to communicate with its environment in a nuanced way
The new Audi Matrix LED headlights are based on what is known as DMD technology, which stands for Digital Micromirror Device . The heart of the device is a small chip with around one million micromirrors, each with an edge length of only a few hundredths of a millimetre. Electrostatic fields allow the mirrors to be tilted at a rate of up to 5000 times per second.
The mirrors’ position determines what happens to the light generated by the three LEDs. A lens system directs the majority of the light onto the street and when a particular area needs to be dimmed, the necessary light is directed to an absorber that swallows it up.
Berlitz has been in a leadership position in lighting innovations at Audi for almost 20 years and along with his team has brought innovations such as LED headlights, dynamic blinkers, and OLED rear lights into series production. And with the Audi Matrix LED headlights, he is once again years ahead of the curve.
“This is opening up a whole new world because the car can now use its lighting to communicate with its environment in a nuanced way,” says Berlitz.
This could be in the form of warning other drivers about accidents or icy patches by projecting appropriate symbols onto the road. Additional ideas are pedestrian crosswalks produced with lighting or directional arrows that could be used to warn other drivers of an upcoming lane change. Before that becomes reality, however, the authorities in the worldwide markets first need to give their approval.
The lighting developers at Audi won’t be running out of challenges any time soon though, given that the future of driving will assign entirely new responsibilities to the vehicle’s lighting. Rather than just lighting the streets for the driver, lighting will become a medium with which the car communicates with its environment.
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