We’ve been told that LED headlamps are the way of the future — but headlamps powered by lasers? While it sounds like something out of a sci-fi universe, it’s actually grounded in reality. In fact, BMW is already hard at work developing these lamps for future vehicles.
Demonstrated on the the i8 Concept, which debuts at the Frankfurt Motor Show, these lamps utilize laser diodes to illuminate the road ahead. The concept alone may put gadget freaks into a veritable tizzy, but BMW says there’s more to the idea than simply being able to say your car’s headlights shoot laser beams. In fact, BMW says laser headlamps are brighter and more efficient than LED-powered headlamps.
BMW’s claim is that laser-powered headlamps boast half the energy consumption of modern LED lights — impressive, considering LED-powered lamps are already far brighter and more energy efficient than most other high-intensity light sources. Better yet, they’re brighter. LED lights generate about 100 lumens (a measure of light output) per watt; laser lighting would trump that with approximately 170 lumens per watt. The automaker says that difference alone could help whittle down a car’s fuel consumption.
We know what you’re thinking — if it’s unsafe to look at laser pointers or barcode scanners, how can I walk down a street without being blinded by these headlights? There’s a method to the madness. To make laser lighting safe for automotive use, BMW emits the beam indirectly, bouncing it off a fluorescent phosphor material inside the housing, which changes the originally bluish beam into a pure, bright shaft of white light. BMW describes the look of the beam as pleasing to the eye, saying that laser light is very different from both sunlight and conventional forms of artificial light. Light waves in a laser beam are monochromatic, or all the same length, which could offer distinct look for future BMW models. Another aspect of the technology that might influence BMW styling in the future is the compact size of laser lighting systems. BMW says that a laser’s individual diodes are one hundred times smaller than the light-emitting squares used in LED headlights, which could open up possibilities for headlight placement on future vehicles.
BMW says laser headlights can eventually make use of all the same innovations used on its current models, including Adaptive Headlights, Dynamic Light Spot system, and Anti-Dazzle High-Beam Assist system. In addition, laser lighting could pave the way for new functions that aren’t possible with other lighting systems. While we currently can’t picture laser headlights without making Star Wars-esque sound effects, we should have a better idea of what the technology actually looks like when BMW’s i8 Concept is unveiled later this month at the Frankfurt Motor Show.