Audi continues to pioneer automotive lighting with second-generation digital OLED technology on display in the new Audi Q6 e-tron models. 

22 May, 2024

Quite aside from their distinctive design language, Audi models have long been easily identified by their distinctive lighting signatures. An acknowledged leader in the field of automotive lighting, the brand continues to push the limits of this important field, developing more and more powerful lighting systems as well as those that maximise safety including through the use of systems  that minimise glare for oncoming vehicles.

The brand’s lighting centre located deep underground in Ingolstadt is a state-of-the-art facility that resembles something from a James Bond movie and allows the testing of ground-breaking lighting for the next generations of vehicles. 

With the new Q6 e-tron models, Audi again advances the filed of digitised light with its active digital light signature. While not quite as futuristic as ‘The Swarm’ lighting concept that Audi developed back in 2013, the light in the new system appears almost ‘alive’ and combines the signature and movement of light for the first time. 

The aim of the Audi designers was to visualise agility and personal interaction with the Audi Q6 e-tron through constant movement of light, this active digital light signature protected and patented by Audi to guard against the usual army of imitators.
The new lighting is made possible by a new software module of the new E³ 1.2 electronics architecture which generates a new image of the active digital light signature every 10 milliseconds using a specially developed algorithm. In the second generation of digital OLED rear lights, which the Audi Q6 e-tron has for the first time in series production, 360 segments in six digital OLED panels can be controlled to allow for a customised lighting design. This technological advance enabled the developers to create a dynamic lighting design such as the active digital light signature. The active digital light signature with 12 segments that dim up and down is created in the digital daytime running lights of the matrix LED headlights at the front. 

While technologically advanced, the new systems have also had to adhere to strict rules governing automotive lighting, where for example, European laws dictate that variation in brightness in a vehicle’s lighting function is prohibited.

“During pre-development, we discovered that we could divide our OLED component into switchable segments,” says Dr Werner Thomas, project manager for digital OLED and exterior displays.

“This means that we can make one segment brighter and dim a sub-segment darker at the same time, so that people can see movement. However, a control instance in the software ensures that the light intensity always remains constant.”

Intensive co-ordination with the authorities took place not only on the active digital light signature, but also on the Q6 e-tron’s communication lights, extending the proximity detection already familiar from other Audi models.

Audi's The Swarm concept back in 2013 showed organic lighting as never before.

Using information obtained from other road users, the communication lights are designed to help improve road safety by warning other road users of hazards on the road. To do this the second-generation digital OLED combination rear light display a specific static taillight signature with an integrated triangle warning symbol in addition to the regular taillight graphic. The communication light warning will we displayed when the hazard warning lights, an emergency call, a breakdown call, the emergency brake lights, Emergency Assist or the exit warning function are activated. In addition, the communication lights use a specific light signature at the front and rear to indicate the status of the vehicle’s parking assistant when it is in an automated parking manoeuvre.
Audi is the only car manufacturer to have recognised the potential of OLED lighting technology and has consistently developed and digitised it. 

“This technology as an Audi USP enables us to functionally expand the scope of the rear lights to include car-to-x communication and content, such as symbols in the rear lights,” says Leon Werner Schmidt, functional project manager for communication lights and digital light signatures.

The future applications for this technology are significant and could also potentially impact the likes of autonomous driving.
“When you think about autonomous driving, you want to communicate via the outer skin of the vehicle using light,” says Selina Hirsch, Communication Lighting Strategy.

“The rear is the ideal place for this, as it can be seen by all vehicles travelling behind. We are increasing our use of OLED technology to create a display because we want to communicate with our surroundings.”