BMW is Developing a Laser-Powered Headlight

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Yes, you read that right — frickin’ laser beams. Prompting too many mainstream sci-fi culture references for our overly-geekish selves, our heads here at A&R are literally exploding like Alderaan right now over the idea of sharks or ill-tempered sea bass motorcycles using lasers as a headlight replacement.

Setting its BMW phasers to stun today, our favorite Bavarian company is already exploring ways to replace the brand-spanking-new LED headlight technology that is just now making its way onto premium automobiles.

BMW hopes that laser technology will not only make for a more advanced headlight in terms of features, but also one that is more energy efficient.

Admittedly the company is only exploring the technology initially for its automobiles, but we can only imagine the laser headlights will trickle down to motorcycles before we have to travel 88 mph and go back to the future.

If you are like us, the idea of a laser-based headlamp assembly sounds perplexing, and slightly dangerous considering the warnings of eye injuries we’ve seen on just about every laser pointer we played with during our childhood.

To belay that latter fear (the eye injury stuff, not our lost adolescence), BMW in its press release comes out and states that laser headlights pose no threat to pedestrians and other motorists in their use (though we’re not exactly sure how that’s achieved).

In making the laser headlight work though, BMW does break enough secrecy to tell us that the a laser’s use of monochromatic light (lasers emit only one frequency of light, thus one specific color of light) and virtually parallel light waves allows a laser headlight system to achieve new feats previously incapable with traditional and LED headlight systems.

Still pretty vague, we imagine that one such application could be a laser light being more finely controlled than other lighting systems, and thus BMW could roll-out a headlight that illuminates a greater field of view, but can exclude an oncoming driver’s eyes, thus not blinding oncoming traffic with “high beam” use by selecting which areas are actually illuminated.

Using half the energy consumed in LED headlights, which is already a huge savings compared to HID and incandescent system, laser headlights mean more efficient electrical systems, which in turn improves the gas mileage of a vehicle (we assume that would decrease the kW usage on an electric vehicle as well).

As for safety, BMW says that “the intensity of laser light poses no possible risks to humans, animals or wildlife when used in car lighting. Amongst other things, this is because the light is not emitted directly, but is first converted into a form that is suitable for use in road traffic.

The resulting light is very bright and white. It is also very pleasant to the eye and has a very low energy consumption.”

One last point from BMW that we thought was interesting was a comment on the form factor of lasers, and the design possibilites that stem from their use on vehicles. “A further feature of laser technology, which has important implications, is the size of the individual diodes.

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 millimetre. This opens up all sorts of new possibilities when integrating the light source into the vehicle.”

It’s all very interesting, though it may take a few years to see the technology in the automobile industry. And with the motorcycle industry’s notoriously slow-to-follow approach to new technology, we’ll likely have to wait a while longer before we see the trickle-down to two wheels.

We now return you to our regular debate as to whether androids dream of electric sheep.

Source: BMW Group