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Laser Headlights – Past, Present, Future

Oil lamp headlights, incandescent headlights, halogen headlights, xenon HID headlights, and LED headlights have all had their day. Now, it’s time for laser headlights, but what’s up with headlights and why are they even necessary? Most of all, will laser headlights start forest fires or blind the neighbor’s dog?

How Did We Get to Laser Headlights?

Human vision at night is notoriously lacking, which is why fire was such a great discovery. Walking and hunting at night was dangerous enough, what with nearly non-existent night vision and almost no color vision by the light of the moon, and so we used candles, lanterns, and electric light. Headlights were invented to make night transportation possible.

Early on, oil and gas lanterns provided limited night visibility, fortunate because horse-drawn carriages and early automobiles rarely moved over 10 mph. As vehicles became faster, drivers needed to see farther, and so headlight technology evolved to match. Over the last century, headlight technology has improved in fits and starts, from oil lanterns to incandescent reflector headlights to sealed-beam headlights and halogen-bulb headlights.

Most recently in headlight technology, xenon HID (high intensity discharge) headlights have become the de facto standard for high-tech headlights, with more-defined beam pattern, stable light color for improved visibility, and higher efficiency. These technologies have done well for the driving public, and beam strength, color, and pattern have done much to keep us safe on the Nation’s highways.

Laser headlights are even more efficient than HID, 200% brighter than LED with 33% to 50% less energy

How do Laser Headlights Work?

Laser headlights are even more efficient than HID, 200% brighter than LED with 33% to 50% less energy, but the name is somewhat of a misnomer – you can’t really see much in a 5-millimeter laser-pointer dot. Laser diodes generate coherent light, like laser pointers and DVD drives – never look directly into a laser, as this can cause permanent eye damage.

Maybe it’s more accurate to call them laser-powered headlights, then. In each headlight beam, 3 or 4 blue laser diodes project a beam of coherent light through mirrors and a prism, combining and diffusing through a phosphorous lens and reflectors. The white diffused light is around 5,500 °K to 6,000 °K, while daylight is estimated at 6,500 °K, significantly improving driver night vision. The light then passes through the headlight’s clear cover, up to 600mt down the road, twice as far as current HID and LED headlights.

What makes laser headlights particularly special is their ability to aim light where it is needed without blinding the driver or other drivers. Laser headlights can block light from hitting other drivers or even individual raindrops, steer headlights around corners and intersections, even highlight crossing pedestrians or animals. No, laser headlights won’t set anything ablaze or blindanyone, though we can’t recommend looking into them.

Where Can You Find Laser Headlights?

The BMW i8 and Audi R8 were the first vehicles on the planet to feature laser headlights, first as concept cars, then as limited production vehicles, just 25 2017 Audi R8 V10 Exclusive Edition in the United States. In the US, archaic transportation laws, NHTSA rules from 1964, made it nearly impossible to break free from sealed-beam headlights, and moving to laser headlight technology is going to require a gargantuan bureaucratic effort. Still, SAE rulings were changed in 2010 to allow for technological innovation such as laser headlights and other headlight technology, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why this technology isn’t legal yet.

Written by our contributer:

Benjamin E J


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