Latest from Audi: 'swarm' lights?
LIGHTS, CAMERAS, OLEDS!: Pictured here are Audi's latest lighting tech, the OLED swarm, which shows how the rear lights dramatically differ from current halogen or LEDs.
Audi arguably started the trend for lighting with light-emitting diodes with the debut of its fairy lights on the original R8 supercar. Now the German automaker hopes to start new lighting trend with its OLED "swarm" lighting system.
The system uses hundreds of tiny points of light that appear to flow like a swarm of bees or a shoal of small fish instead of the standard winking blinkers or static red brake-lights.
According to the guys behind Vorsprung durch Technik, the OLED swarm transforms the rear of the car into a large, continuous illuminated surface on which a large number of small points of light fluctuate. Movements of the red dots take their orientation from the motion of the vehicle; if you're turning right they flow to the right, and applying the brakes they flow rapidly forwards.
The faster the car is driven, the faster the dots move, helping following drivers to gauge its actions. Audi's engineers will also be piloting lasers and wipe-action indicators but more on that later.
The swarm is comprised of organic light-emitting diodes (oleds) which differ from LED's in that they are formed from an organic material rather than semi-conductor crystals. In its basic form the organic material is a paste that can be applied at a depth of just a few thousandths of a millimetre to a flat surface. When an electrical charge is applied the molecules in the paste emit photons and the surface lights up.
Oleds have great potential for many other applications, as proven by the recent A2 concept which is embellished by a thin band of them connecting its headlights to its tail lights. When the A2 concept is in standby mode the band is black; as the key-holder approaches it turns blue and illuminates the door releases.
When the vehicle is moving it shines bright orange and pulses on the corresponding side when the indicator is activated. When braking, a red pulse of light runs along the flank as a warning to other drivers.
This concept of seemingly transient light has also been applied on a smaller scale in new indicator lights that appear to perform a wiping movement. The wipe is achieved by a horizontal row of LED's illuminated in successive blocks.
LED headlights as we know them today are also set to evolve thanks to Audi matrix beam technology, which groups numerous small individual diodes backed by lenses or reflectors. The lights are simply switched on and off or dimmed to suit the situation.
The headlights obtain the information they need from a camera, the navigation system and from additional sensors. If the camera detects other vehicles or the lights of a built-up area the headlights fade out the appropriate sector of the headlight.
In the future the lights will be capable of picking out important objects in the driver’s field of view and either illuminating them more directly or diverting their light around them if the object is a vehicle travelling ahead or oncoming.
Audi engineers are developing a rear fog light that uses a laser diode to project a bright, clear red line on to the road surface if visibility is poor. The width of this line depends on how far behind the following car is travelling - if it is 30m or more behind the line is about as wide as the car.