We often experience feelings of uncertainty when driving through thick fog or on dark nights. For some of us, the fear is even more pronounced, and they just leave their cars at home. The fear of colliding with an oncoming vehicle because a driver on the other side of the road is driving on full beam and dazzles them is too great. In a purely reflex action, the driver either screws up his eyes, or averts them from the road.
This brief moment of inattention can have disastrous consequences. It was time for someone to address this problem. With EDAG's support, the Audi engineers have succeeded in bringing light into the darkness – and in the process have given the headlight of the future a generous portion of intelligence.
Demon eyes with a look that triggers every emotion from fascination to fearful trembling – the people who developed the Audi A8 designs got it completely right. Design, equipment, quality and innovation - everything comes together perfectly. The Audi impresses in every respect. The headlights shine. High-precision, bright, crystal clear. Everything ahead of you, around you and behind you is illuminated. The only thing is, you don't seem to notice this light beam yourself. Is this deliberate?
Yes, absolutely. The innovative development that has been installed in this Audi A8 is the LED Matrix Beam headlight. These are the first LED headlights to be put to use in a car. They provide optimum road illumination and glare-free full beam light. But how is this safety plus achieved? Why is oncoming traffic not dazzled? How is the headlight able to blank out certain objects? How does it know what to do?
What it boils down to is a small control unit, a camera and numerous individual light-emitting diodes. A signal is sent to the control unit when the camera detects oncoming traffic, for instance. The unit controls the various individual diodes in the headlight, switching them on or off, depending on the situation. Sometimes the brightness of the diodes is dimmed, which helps to prevent other road users from being dazzled. For the driver, the result is remarkable: it seems as though the headlights are on full beam all the time. The only difference is that objects that need to be protected from the glare are blanked out. And this works with amazing precision - the outline of any vehicle detected is "cut out" of the headlight beam area to within a centimetre.
Norbert Fürnrieder, team leader in EDAG's Complete Vehicle Electric/Electronic department in Ingolstadt, explains exactly why this is so brilliant. More than anything else, he is keen to see his pioneering work change things, set new standards, and show what you can do if you really want to. For seven years now, he has been working on the subject of "car lights". He has set himself the task of improving the driver's visual range without compromising the safety of other road users. No easy task, as it is not always possible to unite these two disciplines just like that. Norbert Fürnrieder is one of those enthusiastic engineers who like nothing more than feverishly searching for solutions. Taxing his brain. Looking for unusual ways and means. Especially where others have already run out of ideas. For him, development means creating ideas in his head, letting them grow and mature, and then using them to work out concepts that are at least as brilliant as the LED Matrix Beam headlight.
"We always come up with a solution, no matter how long it takes us to mull a problem over. Nothing deters us not even if, to begin with, it looks as though it will be impossible to find a solution. We do something that others don't do: we give an issue our full attention. We don't dismiss a task just because it seems tricky. No, we roll up our sleeves and try to work out a suitable solution as quickly as possible – and this is our great strength. This is what sets us apart!" is his enthusiastic conviction.
Let's take a journey back in time. Inventors in the past did not have an easy time. Research was a difficult undertaking and if they did have a breakthrough, they were often hampered by a lack of funds. Thomas Edison brought light into the darkness when he invented the light bulb. It was inevitable that this invention should also be put to use in the automobile industry. Even so, the first light source in vehicles were candles, oil lamps and acetylene burners. The first electric headlights appeared in 1906, and halogen lamps made their advent in the mid 1960s. In 1991, the xenon headlight was invented. Due to the compulsory assistance systems such as automatic headlight range control, however, xenon technology is both complex and expensive. And yet it was this invention that sparked the research and development into automotive light technology. Better and more efficient concepts were worked out and realised. And now the LED has taken the place of the xenon lamp. A further contemporary variant is the organic LED (OLED). These are flatter and slimmer than standard LEDs. Unlike LEDs, it is the surfaces themselves that are illuminated with the OLED technology. This gives the designer even greater freedom.
As we know, there is a world of difference between theory and practice. Not only in the automotive sector. To prove that practice delivers what theory promises and that the LED Matrix Beam lives up to the claims of the developers, there was no alternative than to fit it into a test vehicle. And so the EDAG team set about integrating the invention in the "casing", the headlight. Norbert Fürnrieder's team were responsible for the development of the boards, the control modules, but also for the definition der LEDs themselves. The power modules, too, were integrated in the vehicle and cooled. They also had a hand in the software development. In this way, the customer's product specifications developed step by step into a full, serial solution-standard integration.
The final test was a complete success: the light frequency changes, adjustment of the individual LEDs, dimming – none of which the driver even noticed. The point was not to allow the "work" of the headlight to distract the driver. He enjoys a perfectly illuminated road situation and can concentrate fully on his driving. Mission accomplished!
Everyone is delighted. And some of us will marvel at this technology for quite some time to come. However, the system has not yet been fully perfected, it still has its difficulties. For example, the car has to be able to detect its surroundings and other road users by means of a camera. But what happens if one of the headlights of an oncoming car is defective? Will the car then be "recognised" as a motorcycle instead? Will it then not mask out the light distribution around the car properly? There is already a potential solution to this problem, but it is still in its infancy: Car2X.
To this end, the EDAG team have already set up a further test vehicle which, instead of LEDs, features state-of-the-art laser technology. An alternative to the LED method, but still extremely high-priced. The Car2X will no longer need to rely on a camera for communication, as it will be replaced by the direct communication of the vehicle with its surroundings. Objects on the road will "speak" to one another. One example of this might be reducing the force of headlight beam at a traffic light, when the driver is waiting for it to turn green. Or the rear lights could be dimmed so that the driver of the car behind is not disturbed by unnecessarily bright lights.
The advantages of laser light and Car2X are obvious: they save energy and allow the headlights to be adjusted more effectively. As with so many aspects of automobile technology, this variant is still a long way off. Whether the LED variant will prevail, or the OLED will have its breakthrough remains to be seen. There are, however, some things that are certain: EDAG will continue to be involved in the latest developments. And Norbert Fürnrieder will continue to roll up his sleeves and apply himself to devising practicable future light solutions.