A Brief History of Automotive Lighting Technology
Approximately 40% of fatal accidents happen at night, making visibility a key factor in keeping roads safe for drivers. As a result, headlamp lighting has long been an important area of research and innovation by automotive lighting manufacturers.
- 1898: The first headlamp was used in the Columbia Electric Car
- 1940: The first sealed beam headlight was introduced to the market and was composed of an incandescent headlamp with a tungsten filament. The lumen intensity of this headlamp type drastically declined after about 1,000 hours, making it unsuitable for long-term usage.
- 1959: Halogen gas was introduced into headlamps which provided a longer lifespan.
- 1991: Xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps were introduced. These lights mimicked daylight quite closely, lasted nearly twice as long and had a greater range of visibility.
- 2003: The first LED lights were installed as rear lights.
- 2006: LEDs were used in headlamps.
- 2013: LED glare-free adaptive high beams were introduced.
Originally, LED lighting was restricted to high-end vehicles, however, in recent years, reductions in manufacturing costs have enabled the use of LED lighting to spread to other vehicle classes. Read on to learn more about what LED lights are, the advantages and disadvantages of automotive LED lighting design, and how automotive lighting manufacturers are embracing new trends in lighting automation.
Light Emitting Diodes, commonly known as LEDs, are a type of transistor that is covered with a substance that produces light when a current is applied. LEDs are compact, allowing for more flexible design possibilities than their incandescent predecessors. Their size is just one reason why LEDs are increasingly utilized in a variety of automotive lighting applications.
LEDs last 25 times longer than other types of automotive lighting technology, they light up faster, can stand up to harsh conditions and run at a cooler temperature. LEDs have many different interiors and exterior automotive applications including:
- Daytime running lights (DRLs)
- Brake lights
- Fog lights
- Turn signals
- Interior lights
- Accent lights
- Dashboard lighting
- Rear combination lamps
- Center high-mount stop lamps
- Ambient lighting
Trends in Automotive Lighting Manufacturing
Although there are challenges to overcome when using LEDs in automobiles, the use of LEDs by automotive lighting manufacturers is on an upward trend. LEDinside estimates that the global market for automotive LEDs will reach $2.29 billion by 2020. This could be due to the numerous benefits of using LEDs for automotive applications which include:
- Lighting flexibility
- Design flexibility
- Weight reduction
- Long lifespan
As the brief history outlined above makes clear, there has not been much innovation when it comes to incandescent bulbs. LEDs, on the other hand, experienced rapid development in a short period of time making the future of LEDs look bright.
Organic Light-Emitting Diodes
One particularly interesting development is the advent of Organic Light-Emitting Diodes or OLED technology. In OLEDs, the light is produced by organic molecules. Due to the fact that they do not require a backlight to operate, they are more flexible and thinner than other lighting options. Where LEDs are point light sources, OLEDs operate as surface lights thus illuminating a whole new world of automotive lighting design possibilities.
Automotive lighting manufacturers create OLEDs in thin sheets that can be made flexible and transparent. They are ideal for use in car interiors, as signal lights or taillights and as dashboard displays. OLEDs are considered to be flat light sources, meaning they do not need reflectors and they do not cast shadows which makes them very lightweight and efficient. They can come in any shape, making them even more flexible than LEDs when it comes to design.
OLEDs have been incorporated by automotive lighting manufacturers into many high-end car designs. For example, in 2016 the Audi 2016TT RS used OLEDs in its taillights making Audi the first commercial automotive manufacturer to incorporate this new and promising technology. Displays are a common and useful automotive application for OLEDs. The Lexus RX features an OLED display instead of a thin film transistor (TFT-LCD) display and both Tesla and Mercedes-Benz are rumoured to be looking into the technology for their display systems. OLEDs on exterior car panels are another interesting area of development. Exterior automotive panels that incorporate OLEDs could be used to warn pedestrians and other road users of a driver’s intention
Lighting Automation Technology
As LED and OLED lighting automation technology continues to evolve, it is important for automotive lighting manufacturers to stay abreast of industry innovation and trends. Innovative Automation is on the leading edge when it comes to developments in automotive lighting design manufacturing. Let us assist your business as this exciting new phase in automotive lighting unfolds.