BMW to launch 'brighter headlight' tech

  • New laser diode-based system set for i8
  • Will roll out on other models soon after
  • Brighter than LEDs, but more energy-efficient

BMW will soon offer main-beam headlights that are within 1% of the maximum brightness allowed under EU law, thanks to new technology based on laser diodes.

The 'Laserlight' system will be offered first as an option on the i8 hybrid supercar, but it's likely to be rolled down to conventional models, starting with the 7 Series. The technology is designed to respond to the statistic that while 30% of car travel takes place in darkness, those journeys account for 50% of all serious accidents.

The set-up uses three tiny laser diodes whose 'blue light' beams converge via a fluorescent phosphor material inside the headlight. BMW claims the intensity is around a thousand times that of conventional LEDs, and that the Laserlight system on the i8 will offer a rating of 340 lux. That's just four lux less than the legal limit in the EU, and much more than the typical LED rating of around 180-200 lux.

That means a range of almost 600 metres – or almost double the maximum currently achieved by LED systems. Laserlights also use less than half the energy required by LEDs, but last around the same time – about 10,000 hours. That's way beyond the natural lifespan of a car.

In the image shown above, the i8 on the left has conventional LED headlights set on dipped beam; the centre image is the same LED set-up but on full beam, while the picture on the right was taken with an i8 equipped with the Laserlight set-up on full beam.

What Car? tried Laserlights during a night-time run in a 7 Series development car, and we were left impressed by the long-distance illumination. BMW is planning to blend the system with its moving headlights, which read the road and send light 'around' other traffic to avoid dazzling them.

The biggest challenges BMW faces with laser system are cost and availability of components.

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