While Audi's technical development chief, Ulrich Hackenberg, announced plans vfor his company to be the first automaker to provide the first optional laser headlights with the introduction of its i8 plug-in hybrid supercar at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, BMW also intends to introduce its own laser high beams later this year as optional equipment for its i8 coupe.
Not only are the laser diodes more efficient (using less energy) than LEDs, they are smaller and brighter than LED headlamps. According to BMW, the i8's laser headlamps use less than half the energy of LEDs. While emitting “170 lumens per watt vs 100 lumens for LEDs.
In addition, Hackenberg added that they “have a 1500-foot range,” nearly twice the distance of LED high beams.”
Still, many automakers are not sure whether the investment is worth their while, noting that LEDs have proven to be ideal for taillights, turn signs and running lights, despite their cost, as well as the fact that lasers can be sensitive to heat. However, “it should not be difficult for engineers to design heat sinks to dissipate a laser diode's excess heat, commented Sevugan Nagappan, marketing manager for infrared and laser products at Osram Opto Semiconductors.
While a primary manufacturer of LED lighting, Osram is currently investing its time and energy into laser technology as well, and foresees carmakers possibly incorporating both into future vehicles.
Note: There is no word when the laser lamps will be available to US consumers, who will first have to wait for the NHTSA to “greenlight” their approval.