Laser—not LED—headlights to be introduced by BMW

Sept. 4, 2011
Munich, Germany--Already a leader in LED automotive lighting, BMW says that laser light is the next logical step in car light development.

Munich, Germany--Car maker BMW already offers full light-emitting diode (LED) headlamps for its BMW 6 Series as well as new automotive lighting and safety developments such as the "Anti-dazzle High- Beam Assistant" and the "Dynamic Light Spot"a marker light system that automatically illuminates pedestrians and improves driving safety. After LED lighting technology, BMW says that laser light is the next logical step in car light development. BMW engineers are currently working on the introduction of laser diode light as a further pioneering technology for series production within a few years. They say it can facilitate entirely new light functions for even more safety and comfort and at the same time saving energy.

BMW says that the coherent nature of laser lighting can produce a near-parallel beam with intensity one thousand times greater than that of conventional LEDs. In vehicle headlights, these characteristics can be used to implement entirely new functions. Also, the high inherent efficiency of laser lighting means that laser headlights have less than half the energy consumption of LED headlights: laser headlights save fuel.

Completely safe laser diode lighting technology is already in use in a variety of consumer products, though in many cases this is a product feature that goes unnoticed by the customer. But BMW says that the advantages of laser diode light will be noticeable and visible when implemented in automobiles. With a length of just ten microns (µm), laser diodes are one hundred times smaller even than the small, square-shaped cells used in conventional LED lighting, which have a side length of one millimeter, opening up numerous possibilities when integrating the light source into the vehicle. The BMW engineers have no plans to radically reduce the size of the headlights however, although that would be theoretically possible. Instead, the thinking is that the headlights would retain their conventional surface area dimensions and so continue to play an important role in the styling of a BMW, while the size advantages could be used to reduce the depth of the headlight unit, and so open up new possibilities for headlight positioning and body styling.

While LED lighting generates only around 100 lumens per Watt, laser lighting generates approximately 170 lumens. With statistics like this, it is not surprising that BMW is also planning to take advantage of laser lighting technology to increase the efficiency of the overall vehicle. Laser lighting will get its first airing with the BMW i8 Concept car.

BMW adds that before the light from the tiny laser diodes is emitted onto the road, the originally bluish laser light beam is first of all converted by means of a fluorescent phosphor material inside the headlight into a pure white light which is very bright and pleasant to the eye.


About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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