Current and future lighting systems from Audi are high-tech, and they are key factors that influence the brand’s dramatic design. Their design brings Vorsprung durch Technik to life and underscores the brand values of progressiveness, sophistication and sportiness.
Progress from the peak: lighting innovations by Audi
Audi continues to drive progress in automotive lighting technology decisively. Here is a summary of some key global innovations in production cars:
1994: Second-generation xenon headlights in the Audi A8
2003: adaptive light in the Audi A8
2004: LED daytime running lights in the Audi A8 W12
2008: Full-LED headlights in the Audi R8, mercury-free xenon plus headlights for the A4 and above
2010: Headlights linked to navigation data in the Audi A8
2011: Visually homogeneous LED taillights in the Audi A6
2012: Dynamic turn signals in the Audi R8
2013: Full-LED headlights in the Audi A3 for the compact class
2013: Matrix LED headlights in the Audi A8
2014: High beam with laser spot in the Audi R8 LMX*
2014: Presentation of Matrix laser technology in Audi prologue show car
Millions of light distributions: Matrix LED technology
Matrix LED headlights, which can be ordered on the new Q7 and certain other model series, reinforce the cutting edge know-how of Audi in automotive lighting technology. They illuminate the street extremely well in all situations without causing glare to other road users. The high-beam light is subdivided into small LEDs: 30 per headlight on the Audi Q7, for instance, 25 on the Audi A8. These LEDs are combined into groups, and they emit their light through lenses or through reflectors as on the A8.
When the light switch is set to Automatic and the high beams are on, outside of urban areas the navigation data is used to activate the system at speeds of just 30 km/h (18.6 mph) and above. As soon as the camera with which it works detects other vehicles, the controller immediately switches off individual LEDs or dims them in 64 stages, creating several million possible light patterns.
Oncoming and preceding vehicles are excluded from the light pattern, while all other areas between and adjacent to them continue to be fully illuminated. As soon as the oncoming traffic has passed, the high beam once again lights uniformly and at full power.
The LEDs in the Matrix LED headlights also assume the role of cornering lights, selectively brightening or dimming to shift the focal point of the light along the line of the curve. They do this shortly before the wheel is turned based on predictive route data provided by the MMI navigation plus. Audi is the first car manufacturer to completely replace the otherwise mechanical elements of the cornering light with software.
Powerful and highly efficient: LED headlights
The LED headlights from Audi, which can be delivered for all model series, generate a light that mimics daylight with its color temperature of 5,500 Kelvin. The LEDs are maintenance-free and designed to last the life of the car. The low-beam light requires just 40 watts per headlight unit. The LED headlights have special functions for city driving, intersections and country roads as well as freeways, left-driving traffic and poor weather.
LEDs do not get very hot. Red LEDs reach a temperature of around 120 C. and white LEDs a temperature of 150 degrees Celsius – much less than halogen headlights, which heat up to temperatures as high as 400 C. Fans blow the heat of the LEDs towards the headlight cover to keep it free of fogging and snow as much as possible.
LED headlights are pure high-tech. In the A3 series, for instance, eight high-performance LEDs generate the high-beam light that passes through a matt aluminum trim piece, while the low beam is generated by nine high-performance LED chips in two free-form reflectors. The turning light and all-weather light are housed in a separate module. Daytime running lights, parking lights and turn signals, which are generated via a light guide, run around the headlight as narrow strips above and to the inside.
On some models, LED headlights perform an additional safety function in interplay with the optional night vision assistant. When the night vision assistant detects a person in the critical area in front of the car, individual LEDs briefly flash three times. This highlights the person against the background, warning both the pedestrian and the driver.
Clear signals: the dynamic turn signal
The dynamic turn signal, which Audi offers on many models, sends clear, unmistakable signals to the environment indicating the turning direction. Other road users can quickly detect them, even in poor visibility or with their peripheral vision – this makes an important contribution to safety.
Depending on the model, the turn signals are either individual LEDs or LED blocks. When the driver activates the turn signal, they light up sequentially from the inside out. After 150 milliseconds, all segments are bright; for another 250 milliseconds they illuminate with full intensity. The LEDs then go dark before repeating the lighting sequence.
Several hundred meters of range: the laser spot
In 2014, the laser spot for the high beam made its production debut in the high-performance Audi R8 LMX high-performance sports car. It was used shortly before that in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The new laser high-beam spot, which will be available in additional models in the future, consists of one laser module per high beam that generates a light cone extending several hundred meters. This represents a doubling of the range of a conventional LED high beam. There are four powerful laser diodes in each module, each only three-tenths of a millimeter (0.01 in) in diameter. These diodes generate a monochromatic and coherent blue laser beam with a wavelength of 450 nanometers. A phosphor converter converts the beam into white light that is suitable for roadway use with a color temperature of 5,500 Kelvin.
The laser spot, which is active at speeds of 60 km/h (37.3 mph) and above, offers the driver major advantages with respect to visibility and safety. An intelligent camera sensor system detects oncoming road users and dims the lights automatically.
The next step: Matrix laser technology
Audi is taking the next step in the development of automotive lighting technology with its Matrix laser headlights. Broken down into tiny pixels, the light beam illuminates the road in high resolution and with finely regulated control.
The acronym for the technology that Audi uses in the Matrix laser headlights is DMD (digital micromirror device), and it is also used in many video projectors. At its core is a matrix of hundreds of thousands of micromirrors, whose edge lengths measure just a few hundredths of a millimeter.
Electrostatic fields are used to tilt each individual micromirror up to 5,000 times per second. The light is projected onto the street as a function of the positions of the individual mirrors.
A car equipped with DMD technology can therefore generate the ideal light for any driving situation. The technical possibilities are practically unlimited. Targeted light helps the driver to stay in the lane through construction zones, for example. When turning or moving through intersections, it can show the driver the correct way, even projecting arrows or similar graphics onto the road, if desired. The high-resolution light can highlight important traffic signs or prevent light glare to other road users very precisely.
The Matrix laser headlights represent an immense gain in safety – including for future piloted driving. In urban traffic, for instance, they can lay down a pattern of light and dark zones directly in front of the car, which indicates to pedestrians that they can cross the street safely.
Like on rails: construction zone lighting
Construction zone lighting is a new, future function of Matrix LED and Matrix laser technology. It projects two strips of light, each around 15 m (49.2 ft) in length, onto the road to indicate the vehicle’s width. When driving through construction zones or similar narrow stretches of road, the new lighting function makes it easier for drivers to see how much space they have to either side of the car.
Versatile: adaptive light
A control unit adjusts the orientation of the swiveling xenon plus modules so that they consistently provide optimal illumination, whether traveling on city streets, country roads or highways. The driver can configure the lighting characteristic via Audi drive select.
A particularly appealing component of adaptive light is its variable headlight range control. A video camera recognizes vehicles ahead and oncoming vehicles by their lights. The control unit then adapts the car’s lighting to the distance to the other vehicles – via a soft transition that always maximizes the amount of illumination.
Networking with the MMI navigation plus system makes the adaptive light even more capable. The navigation system reads the route data in advance and relays it to the headlight control unit – this is how freeway lighting is activated while still on the entrance ramp, for example. The system automatically switches on the turn lights before entering an intersection; in countries like the United Kingdom or Japan, it automatically switches the headlights from driving on the right to driving on the left.
Lighting design from Audi: aesthetics, dynamism and optimal functionality
For Audi, design is more than just styling; it is the aesthetic expression of the brand values. Exterior lighting – from the LED daytime running lights up front to the LED tail lights at the rear – is an important element of a car’s exterior design. It is a bold, unequivocal signature that lets an Audi be recognized as such, even at a great distance.
Audi lighting is not only aesthetically pleasing, it is also dynamic. The light comes alive; it moves and takes on new forms of expression and differentiation. In the future, organic light emitting diodes or OLEDs at the rear or on the sides of the car will enable new types of lighting functions. When braking, for example, its light can be made to flow quickly forward.
The model known as “The swarm” presents entirely new potentials for OLED technology. Here, Audi engineers have converted the rear of the car into a large, continuous light surface. Countless tiny points of light flicker over it much like a swarm of bees. The movements of the red dots take their cues from the car’s movements. When a right turn is made, they flow to the right; when the car is braked they flow more dynamically and diffusely. The faster the car is going, the faster they move. The driver in the car behind can thus always tell at a glance what the driver ahead is doing.
The Audi lighting of the future will interact with other road users and with the driver. In the future, a novel laser tail light that assumes the shape of a warning triangle in the fog or rain could effectively keep trailing vehicles at a safe distance. In the interiors of future Audi models, styling elements might integrate lighting functions that warn the driver of danger or communicate important signals during piloted driving – red or green lighting of the steering wheel rim, for instance.
Networking with other cars and the surroundings will further enhance safety and also reduce fuel consumption. In the future, cars could, for example, share the task of illuminating the road so that each vehicle can expend less energy. Based on the principle of machine learning, headlight controllers could make use of data they collect on their own to further improve the light distribution pattern.
New materials: molded interconnected devices
Innovative materials are a prerequisite for innovative lighting technologies. One of these new materials is known as MID (molded interconnected devices). With MID, light assemblies can be developed in any desired form – a giant step forward compared to the two-dimensional printed circuit boards of today. The first Audi design sample for facilitating visualization of design possibilities is an illuminated sphere approximately 15 centimeters (5.9 in) in diameter. It is made up of two half-shells with a number of apertures, and has 52 integrated LEDs.
MID technology is based on an innovative polymer that contains an organic metal complex. The first step is to produce the required shape by injection molding. In a second step, a laser inscribes the electrical circuit on the component. The uppermost polymer layer is vaporized and the metallization nuclei to which metals can adhere are exposed. The conductive traces that provide power to the LEDs are created during the third step, electro-deposition.
Audi is making its new lighting technology a sensory experience for the public at trade fairs and exhibitions – by using a tool taken straight from the development laboratory. At the Virtual Engineering Terminal, the viewer can move various vehicle models by hand. The light distributions change according to the situation the viewer creates; they can be seen in a top view and on a monitor. The Virtual Engineering Terminal can model the modes of operation of various types of lighting extremely precisely and in an easy-to-understand way: construction zone lighting, cornering lights, marker lights, dynamic turn signals, Matrix LED and Matrix laser headlights.
Mood and safety: interior lights
In addition to running lights, interior lighting is a second important field of work for lighting developers and designers at Audi. It has an immediate effect on the driver and passengers; it affects their moods and communicates important signals to them. Audi generally uses cool light with a tech look, which matches the progressive character of the brand.
In the new Audi Q7, the owner can adjust the ambient lighting to virtually any desired color, if the vehicle is equipped with the optional ambient lighting. A selection of 30 colors is available for the marker lights, which are extremely narrow light guides that follow the contours of the instrument panel, the doors and the console over the center tunnel. The marker lights work intelligently in coordination with the Exit Warning assistance system. If either the driver or a passenger want to open the door while a bicycle or vehicle is approaching from the rear, the light guide lights up in signal red and pulses at short intervals.
Benchmark: the new Audi Lighting Assistance Center
In its development work, Audi is pulling out all the stops – in March, a new drive-in light tunnel was built at the Ingolstadt site that is 120 meters (393.7 ft) in length. The Lighting Assistance Center, the largest drive-in facility of its type in Europe, offers excellent conditions for developing innovative solutions for the high-beam lights and for future camera-based lighting assistance systems. This eliminates the many night drives that would otherwise be necessary, and new ideas and developments make it to the street even faster.
Innovation: inspiration from racing
From the racetrack to the street and vice-versa – at Audi, the developers of race cars and production cars collaborate extremely closely. The brand’s LMP1 prototypes have used LED headlights for years now. In some cases, they are derived from street cars, while in other cases they provide important ideas for production development, such as in relation to cooling and lightweight design materials.
The equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.