Future automotive lighting systems to communicate with other road users are under discussion with legislators.
The 2021 Audi Q5 will introduce a new level of lighting technology with its configurable OLED (organic light-emitting diode) tail-lights, but that’s just the latest in a row of stepping stones into the future of lighting technology for the German prestige brand.
Engineers and designers are already working on more advanced systems that promise enhanced safety and more engaging animation and style.
That’s the word from Audi AG executive Stefan Berlitz (head of lighting development), Christoph Häussinger (lighting design) and Michael Kruppa (head of lighting functions, innovations and tail-lights).
Earlier this week, the three execs took part in an online presentation, all of them speaking through an interpreter to the media concerning Audi’s plans for headlight and tail-light systems over the next few years.
Explaining the Audi Q5’s tail-light design, Häussinger revealed that this might be the start of something far reaching in the area of light design.
“In the Q5 you have three of these OLEDs, each coming with six segments, so we’ve got 18 pixel fields, and with that you can actually create these different signatures on the tail-lights of the Q5,” he said.
“We’ve got three different signatures that the customers can choose from … [including] one specific animation, which is a big topic for us by the way, because the number of pixels in the rear is like a display, and with that we have the possibility to animate the display much better.”
Kruppa said OLED technology opens up lots of opportunities to use light as a means of communication with other road users.
“Now with OLED, you create the light very homogenously over the light area, so it’s the perfect technology for the rear,” he said.
“If you combine an OLED with segments, you have the OLED surface – that means you can activate each single segment, you can make it lighter, darker, you can activate it or turn it off … to make this character-like display on the rear possible.”
It’s a theme that clearly has Audi very excited. The Q5 already brightens its tail-light display if it’s at a standstill and a car pulls up behind within two metres of the Audi.
It becomes a warning signal to the other driver if the system detects that the proximity of the car behind is too close to the Audi.
The driver of the Audi isn’t even aware of this proximity alert, but the driver of the car behind will certainly see it. It switches back to normal mode as soon as the Audi moves off.
This is really the first attempt to signal to other road users much beyond braking, emergency braking and turning (which Audi has taken further in recent years with its dynamic turning lights).
But conveying information to other road users doesn’t have to end with the Q5’s proximity alert, said Kruppa, who credits digitisation with permitting Audi to develop a ‘light language’.
“[For] the first time you’re having a communication through the light to other traffic participants, so that the car ‘speaks’ to others. This is something we want to increase in future,” he said.
“We want to create warning symbols.”
Kruppa hinted that getting legislators on side will take longer than actually developing the technology.
‘A completely new feature’
Audi also projects a future in which headlights will be high-tech Aldis lamps, advising other road users that you are planning to move into an adjacent lane or which lane your Audi is occupying as you approach from behind. This is already available in the Audi A8.
“A completely new feature, namely the lane light that opens up, that will help you by changing lanes [and direct] you into the corresponding lane,” said Berlitz.
“And we have an orientation light that … tells you exactly where in your designated lane are you. Are you positioned ideally, to give you even more orientation…
“With the orientation light, it will also help you to stick to your line, which is particularly helpful when you go through a construction site.”
Where road markings are yellow to indicate wider or narrower lanes, the Audi’s headlights will follow these lines rather than the older white lines, which would certainly make life easier for many drivers on our endlessly under-construction freeways.
But it’s the tail-lights that show the most potential for a bit of playfulness (or expressing one’s displeasure too).
Currently there are limits to what can be done with existing OLED technology, according to Kruppa.
“These are two-dimensional glass plates. Glass is important to allow OLED to be used in the car, but in the next level we want to take this further,” he said.
“What we want to have is a so-called flexibilisation of these substrates, meaning flexible, digital OLEDs to extend the application area on the rear, to make it wider and broader, so in the distribution of the car, we want to have the OLEDs wrap all the way around the rear.
“Our vision – together with the designers – is to use the entire rear as a communication and display area.”
The graphical concepts could be limited initially. Berlitz implied that icons won’t necessarily be understood in other cultures, and a lot of what we think is intuitive, actually isn’t.
“When it came to the symbols though, we had a debate and a discussion with the United Nations. I said: ‘Look, sat-nav symbols should stay in the head-up display’, but the German representative said: ‘Hey, no, it could be beneficial to have, for example, that sat-nav arrow turning to the right so that a pedestrian or a cyclist knows: ‘Oh, this car is going to be turning right soon…’
“With the symbols, we feel they need to be intuitively understood.”
Berlitz stated that Audi has recruited PHd students from local universities to work through some of these issues. Presumably they have already canvassed using icons to mimic the middle and index fingers raised in a ‘V’ for British Commonwealth countries versus flipping the bird in the US.
And to impress upon his audience the extent of the problem, Berlitz said: “Even a traffic light, with red and green [lights] is something we all had to learn.”
News Source: Motoring