American motorists have been living in the dark ages, at least when it comes to getting the latest and most advanced automotive headlight technology. The often inflexible Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards have, until now, made it impossible for automakers to bring to the U.S. new laser lighting systems. But that’s about to change.
Audi has won approval to equip the top-end of its R8 sports car with new laser high beams. They will supplement the standard LED headlamps on the 2017 Audi R8 V10 plus exclusive. Unfortunately, only 25 of these models will be produced, but odds are we’ll see the laser tech now appear on some other Audis, as well as products from other manufacturers.
There’s growing pressure on automakers to improve their headlights. Even with the latest HID and LED systems, a number of vehicles haven’t fared all that well in the new headlight tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Laser lamps could help solve that problem.
The technology delivers what Audi’s news release describes as a “very bright and pure white light,” which also can light the road up at much greater distances. The challenge has been to ensure that oncoming motorists wouldn’t get blinded by the beams. As a result, the Audi laser lamps will project their light “low and wide,” the maker explains.
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Whether that was all it took to meet the demands of the U.S. Department of Transportation isn’t clear, and Audi isn’t saying much else. It could help that Mark Rosekind, the director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declared last January that the agency will take steps to speed up approval of high-tech safety technology. NHTSA has formed a safety consortium with about two dozen major automakers.
What we do know is that there are four blue lasers in the Audi module. They operate – for those technically minded – at 450 nanometers. A “phosphor convertor transform the blue beam into more natural visible light.
The laser supplements the existing LED high beam, and it only becomes active at speeds above 40 mph. We expect that the laser module will be doused, just like the regular high beams, when the car’s sensors detect oncoming traffic.
“When conditions permit,” however, Audi says the technology will “greatly enhance visibility for the driver.”
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It remains to be seen if the DOT will now give the go-ahead to BMW which has laser lights on its European i8 sports car, but not on the American model.
There are plenty of other new lighting technologies coming, including matrix LEDs that allow the beams to be pointed in different directions for maximizing visibility, especially on winding roads.
Of course, there are also new sensing systems that will allow the car to spot what a human driver might not. The new Cadillac CT6 came to market as the latest product to offer infrared night vision technology that can spot a “target” – such as a pedestrian – and alert the driver.
As for the new 2017 Audi R8 V10 plus exclusive, expect to spend $229,200 plus $1,250 in delivery fees.
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Along with the new laser lamps, you’ll get a unique leather package, an Alcantara headliner, exclusive illuminated door sills, 20-inch wheels and more.