Audi has been working with laser lights for some time now, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for parent company Volkswagen Group. The automaker envisions a future where headlights and taillights provide more intelligent illumination and communicate with other cars on the road.
Volkswagen has opened an entire section at its Wolfsburg plant dedicated to lighting research and development. At the “center of lighting excellence,” as VW calls it, there is a 328-foot long tunnel where engineers can test out new lights. We don’t know exactly what they’re cooking up, but VW says it envisions micro-pixel headlights with up to 30,000 light points, which would be capable of projecting holograms onto the road and the surrounding space.
Future headlights would be able to project lines that correspond to a car’s width to give drivers a better idea of how their vehicle fits within the lane markings. This could be especially helpful when towing a trailer. The lighting system could also help guide drivers through treacherous mountain passes as the virtual lane markers bend to follow the curves in the road.
In the rear of the vehicle, matrix taillights could display messages warning other drivers of road hazards. They could also show the vehicle’s charge level, or a personalized signature chosen by the driver via smartphone. While parking, vehicles would project their path onto the road, warning other drivers of the maneuver.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard VW’s plans for future lighting. When debuting its I.D. concepts, the automaker envisioned lights that mimic the human eye. When parked, the vehicle displays only a thin LED strip to signal the “eyes” are shut. Once the driver is ready to get going, the eyes open, and they can even be programmed to “wink” at the driver.
When turning left or right, the headlights look in the direction that the vehicle is going to turn. At crosswalks, the headlights will look in the direction of pedestrians and cyclists to let them know the car is aware of their presence. The I.D. Vizzion concept, with its HD Matrix lights, could even project the stripes of a crosswalk to signal that it’s safe to cross. This type of communication will be essential in the driverless car age, as there’s otherwise no way to know an autonomous car’s intentions.