Lighting systems from Audi are pure high‑tech and have an emotional impact on the brand's design. Audi continues to drive progress in automotive lighting technology in substantial ways. The latest developments, aside from the familiar Matrix LED technology, are OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology and the new Matrix Laser technology.
Entirely new creative freedom for design: OLED technology
New OLED lights enable previously unheard-of lighting uniformity and open up additional creative freedom for design. Audi has systematically developed all aspects of the new technology. Initial projects are already underway to bring OLED technology to production readiness in rear lights, as the company is showing in its Audi e-tron quattro concept car and near-production rear lights in at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for 2016 in Las Vegas.
In each OLED unit, two electrodes – at least one of which must be transparent – incorporate numerous extremely thin layers of organic semiconductor materials. A low DC voltage of between three and four volts activates and lights the layers, each of which is less than one-thousandth of a millimeter thick. The color is based on the molecular composition of the light source.
In contrast to point light sources such as LEDs, which are made of semiconductor crystals, OLEDs are flat light sources. Their light attains a new level of homogeneity and can be smoothly dimmed to any level of brightness. The lights do not cast any shadows or require any reflectors, light guides or similar optical components – making the OLED units efficient and lightweight.
In addition, they require hardly any cooling. Rapid progress is being made in OLED technology – in part due to the driving force of Audi. If further increases in light density are achieved, OLEDs will soon be able to generate turn and brake signals too.
Another benefit of OLEDs: They can be subdivided into small segments that can be controlled at different brightness levels. There will also be OLED units with multiple colors in addition to transparent ones. This enables new lighting scenarios with extremely fast switchover times. The illuminated sub-surfaces exhibit very precise boundaries with one another. In the future, it will be possible to implement OLED technology as Matrix OLED technology at Audi, supplementing today's Matrix LED and Matrix Laser technologies.
OLED technology offers very high-end lighting design with a high level of brand identification value, a new vehicle image – day and night – and further visual differentiation of Audi vehicles relative to the competition.
While conventional OLEDs are manufactured on a glass substrate and are therefore rigid, tremendous effort is going into the development of flexible OLEDs as well. That is why Audi is researching a variety of materials and manufacturing technologies. Along with extremely thin flexible glass, thin metallic films offer some promise. Applying the material on a plastic film substrate has great potential as well. However, in this case it is still a challenge to encapsulate the OLED and thereby attain a sufficient degree of durability. On the other hand, this application has great potential in that it offers new design possibilities and reduced costs.
In the tail light on exhibit at CES – which was created as part of an Audi research project in cooperation with Osram and Hella – a complete 3D-OLED module was produced from a single flexible OLED that was formed into a 3D body by intelligently bending it about different axes.
The luminous 3D body is easy to see from all viewing angles without requiring any sort of additional optics or reflectors. OLEDs in 3D design boost safety and offer new possibilities in vehicle design. Development of the light design can take entirely new paths, because of the exceptional homogeneity of the lighting surfaces and the ability to lay them out precisely.
Extremely fine control: Matrix LED headlights
The Matrix LED headlights underscore Audi’s ground-breaking expertise in automotive lighting technology. They illuminate the street extremely well in any situation without causing light glare for other road users. The high beam light is made up of small LEDs – 30 per headlight in the Audi Q7, for instance. They are combined into groups and emit light through lenses or via reflectors.
When the light switch is set to “Automatic” and the high beams are on, the system becomes active outside of densely populated areas – as determined from navigation data – starting at a speed of 30 km/h (18.6 mph). If the camera detects other road users, the control unit switches off individual LEDs at lightning speed or dims them over 64 steps.
Oncoming traffic and cars ahead 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 shines homogeneously and at full power. The new Audi A4 and Audi Q7 offer another function: road sign anti-glare. Wherever the light strikes a road sign that is highly reflective, its intensity is dimmed by around one-third.
The LEDs in the Matrix LED headlights also assume the function of cornering lights, selectively brightening or dimming to shift the focal point of the light in the direction 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 manufacturer to completely replace the otherwise mechanical elements of the cornering light with software.
Powerful and highly efficient: LED headlights
LED headlights from Audi generate a light that resembles daylight with a color temperature of around 5,500 Kelvin. They can be delivered for all model lines. The LEDs are maintenance-free and designed to last the life of the car.
In some models, LED headlights provide another safety function in conjunction with the optional night vision assistant. When the night vision assistant detects a pedestrian in the critical area in front of the car, individual LEDs flash three times in quick succession. This makes the pedestrian visually stand out against the background, warning both the pedestrian and the driver.
Clear signals: dynamic turn signals
The dynamic turn signals that Audi offers in many of its models send clear, unambiguous signals to the surroundings about the direction in which the driver wants to turn. Other road users can quickly detect this even if visibility is poor or with their peripheral vision – making an important contribution to safety.
Several hundred meters of range: auxiliary laser high-beam lights
Auxiliary laser high-beam lights made their production debut in 2014 in the Audi R8 LMX high-performance sports car. They had already been used shortly before that in the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
With the new laser high-beam spot, is also available in the new R8, one laser module per high beam generates a cone of light that extends several hundred meters. This doubles the lighting range compared to conventional LED high beams. There are four powerful laser diodes in each module, each only three-tenths of a millimeter (0.01 in) in diameter. They generate a monochromatic and coherent blue laser beam with a wavelength of 450 nanometers. A phosphor converter converts it into white light suitable for roadway use with a color temperature of 5,500 Kelvin.
The laser high-beam light, which is active at speeds of 60 km/h (37.3 mph) and above, offers the driver major advantages in terms of visibility and safety. An intelligent camera-based sensor system detects oncoming road users and automatically dims the light pattern specifically for them.
The next step: Matrix Laser technology
Audi is advancing to the next development step in automotive lighting technology with its Matrix Laser headlights. Subdivided into tiny pixels, the beam of light illuminates the road in high resolution and with precise control.
The technology that Audi uses in the Matrix laser headlights goes by the acronym DMD (digital micromirror device). It is also used in many video projectors. At its core is a matrix of hundreds of thousands of micromirrors whose edges measure just a few hundredths of a millimeter in length. With the help of electrostatic fields, each individual micromirror can be tilted up to 5,000 times per second. The light is projected onto the road according to the settings of the individual mirrors.
Using DMD technology, the car can generate the ideal light for any driving situation. The technical possibilities are virtually 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 right path, even projecting lines or similar graphics onto the road, if desired. The high-resolution light can highlight important traffic signs and prevent glare for other road users with extreme precision. Moreover, it is possible to implement greeting scenarios and/or staging by projection of any desired graphics or logos. The DMD can also show recommendations for energy-efficient and safe vehicle handling by projecting symbols onto the road.
The Matrix laser headlights mean a huge degree of added safety for the driver and others nearby, as well as for the piloted driving of the future.
Just like being on rails: construction zone lighting
Construction zone lighting is a new future function of Matrix LED or Matrix Laser technology. It projects two strips of light about 15 m (49.2 ft) long onto the road, to indicate the vehicle’s width. When driving through construction sites or similar narrow stretches of road, the new lighting function makes it easier for the driver to figure out how much space they have to the left and right sides of the car.
Progress from the top: 20 years of lighting innovations at Audi
The most important global production innovations in keywords:
1994: Second-generation xenon headlights in the Audi A8
2003: Audi adaptive light in the Audi A8
2004: LED daytime running lights in the Audi A8 W12
2008: All-LED headlights in the Audi R8, mercury-free xenon starting in the Audi A4
2010: Headlights networked with navigation data in the Audi A8
2011: visually homogeneous LED taillights in the Audi A6
2012: dynamic turn signals in the Audi R8
2013: All-LED headlights in the Audi A3 for the compact class
2013: Matrix LED headlights in the Audi A8
2014: Headlights with laser spot in Audi R8 LMX
2015: Audi A4 and Q7 with Matrix LED technology and road sign anti-glare function
2014: Presentation of Matrix laser technology in Audi prologue show car
2015: Presentation of Matrix Laser OLED technology in the study Audi e-tron quattro concept
Equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice.