Another BMW first: production laser headlights on i8

BMW 3-Series bi-xenon headlamp. Photos courtesy of BMW Canada.

The unique design of headlights and taillights has always been a key styling element on BMW vehicles. Their quad headlamp design combined with their kidney grill is what make the Bayerische Motoren Werke cars and SUVs unmistakable from just a glance.

In the past few years, BMW has cleverly emphasised their twin circular headlight trademark with the addition of lit circular rings. Known as “corona rings” or “halos,” they’ve been widely imitated by others but arguably never quite as successfully duplicated.

Set on breaking the mould and creating a new trend once again, BMW is introducing their “laser light” technology, which is arriving on the roads in a production car for the first time this autumn.

For a number of years now, BMW’s engineering team has been developing and improving laser technology to ready it for use on a mass-produced car.

First shown in the BMW i8 concept car at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the laser light produces a luminous intensity 10 times greater than conventional light sources such as halogen, xenon or LED.

How it works

BMW engineers have done this by using special lenses to direct coherent and monochromatic blue laser beams, produced by three high-performance laser diodes, onto a fluorescent phosphorous substance inside their laser light source.

This source then converts the beams into high intensity white light, offering maximum visibility and safety. Since the colour temperature of the light is very similar to that of daylight, it’s also easy on the eyes of the driver behind the wheel.

Aside from a brighter beam, the laser light also has other benefits. Since the light-emitting surface area of a laser diode is 100 times smaller than a conventional LED, a far smaller reflector is needed, thereby saving valuable installation space in the vehicle and reducing weight.

(From left) i8 LED low beams, i8 LED high beams and LED high beams with laser light “boost.”

BMW says that since the construction is so compact, new vehicle designs are also possible. The flat form lends itself to optimum vehicle aerodynamics and the 30 per cent reduction in energy consumption all work towards increasing overall vehicle efficiency, as well as lowering carbon dioxide emissions.

First production vehicle with laser-based headlights

For the time being, BMW is exclusively offering the laser light as a “boost” option on their production i8 plug-in hybrid supercar. In this setup, the system supplements the efficient LED high-beam headlights, enhancing their visual range up to 600 metres, which is twice that of a headlight with conventional lighting technology.

A camera-based digital High Beam Assistant system automatically turns off the high beams to prevent both oncoming traffic and vehicles travelling ahead from being dazzled.

However as the technology improves even further and costs decrease due to economies of scale, it won’t be too long until BMW’s laser lights will be available on the company’s more mainstream vehicles, redefining standards for safety, efficiency and design for even more drivers.

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