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Laser Beam Headlights Increasing Visibility

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Laser Beam Headlights Increasing Visibility
Photo credit: muohace_dc / Flickr

Imagine headlights capable of illuminating the roadway more than 1600 feet in front of you. It may sound like something straight out of the scenes of a futuristic movie, but according to Audi, the technology is coming — and sooner than you think.

BMW and Audi Illuminating the Way

At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, car manufacturer Audi announced its latest ace in the hole — headlights whose high-beams feature laser diodes. Putting off three times as much light as LEDs, laser lights will appear in Audi’s new race car — the R-18 e-Tron Quattro LMP1 — as early as this year, according to Popular Mechanics.

Not even the first automaker to speculate over the use of lasers as headlights, Audi’s latest announcement echoes the A2 concept car they first debuted back in 2011, a car which utilized laser technology in the operation of its rear fog lights.

Also in 2011, BMW first debuted laser lights on a vehicle — the i8 concept car that was revealed in Frankfort. BMW is currently at work on its own version of laser-powered illumination for consumer use which it plans to debut later this year, says Huff Post.

Are We There Yet?

It’s not far now, states Audi, until laser-based headlights will begin appearing in their consumer vehicles, although they don’t say exactly when. The technology is there, it only needs tweaking. Today’s laser-diodes are still in the dinosaur stage, only about as viable as where LEDs were a decade ago, but, make no mistake, evolution is coming — and with it comes headlights capable of illuminating the darkness for a whole quarter mile.

Safety in Numbers

BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid is expected to hit the road in late 2014. But it comes with a hefty price tag attached — around $135k — to be exact. But those who can afford to play should expect to own working high-beams constructed from laser technology.

Can they burn you or damage the eyes of oncoming drivers? BMW says no. They’ve designed the technology in such a way that even though the light is powered by lasers, it’s not actual laser beams drivers will see shooting from the front of this luxury sports car. And in the event of an accident, power to the headlights is the first thing to go.

The Race for More Space

Why the rush to laser high-beams? These type of headlights are an improvement over existing LEDs in more ways than just illumination. The laser-diode setups that Audi and BMW hope to debut have three huge advantages over existing headlights:

  • They’re 30 percent more energy efficient.
  • They’re three times brighter.
  • They’re 100 times smaller than what’s installed on existing cars, according to Motor Authority.

Once this technology has been tweaked into everyday performance, the improvement in design possibilities will be nearly endless.

Can lasers really function responsibly as headlights? Time will tell. Consumers should know for sure by late 2014 or early 2015, when BMW is slated to make the i8 available to the public. From there it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to new and innovative headlight design and configuration. Whether consumers will feel safer with lightsaber-esque beams emanating from their headlights also remains to be seen, but rest assured, there’s a ton of sci-fi fans out there just waiting to find out.

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