13 Aug 2020
Imagine taillights that can warn your fellow drivers of upcoming hazards such as a traffic jam or flash flood? These are the futuristic possibilities made possible by Audi – the first car manufacturer to digitise taillights.
Audi has long been a pioneer of automotive lighting and now the brand with the four rings has unveiled its latest innovation – digital OLED technology. We’re not just talking about brighter illumination or improved visibility – this represents a seismic shift that evolves taillights from a fairly basic signal function to something quite extraordinary. The digitalisation of organic light-emitting diodes (so called OLEDs) not only promises to improve road safety but for the first time it allows personalisation of the taillight signature.
OLEDs, like LEDs, are comprised of semiconductor material sandwiched between two electrodes. The difference stems from the fact that OLEDs are built using carbon-based material – hence the “organic” in the name. OLED light sources are panel radiators, unlike point light sources such as LEDs, and their light is extremely homogeneous and spread over a wide surface area.
Certain segments of the OLED panel can be selected with high or low contrast which allows for a more intricate patterns. The OLED lighting unit does not require any reflectors, optical fibres or similar optics, so this makes it very efficient, lightweight and flat, which considerably increases design freedom. Audi’s new digital OLEDs offer a larger number of individually controllable segments that can be randomly activated, with continuous variability of brightness.
Audi recently showcased digital OLED with a choice of three signatures in the taillights. Pop the car into “Dynamic” mode and the lamps switch to yet another signature. Each lamp unit can have its own animation effects such as coming-home/leaving-home. There’s proximity detection too – if another vehicle gets within two metres when you’re stopped at a road junction, for example, all the rear lights illuminate.
“Here the taillights turn into a kind of display on the outer shell, which will provide us with ample opportunities and prospects in terms of design, personalization, communication and safety going forward,” says OLED technology project manager Dr. Werner Thomas.
Digital OLED technology opens up new possibilities for car-to-x communication: cars “talking” to each other and their surroundings, sending, receiving and sharing information among themselves. Subject to legislative approval, predefined warning symbols are conceivable in the future as well. In the next few years we could also see more segments introduced per taillight, allowing for even greater personalisation of signature lighting. What might the content show? The only limit will be your imagination.