To many, LED’s are the hot topic of the moment where lighting is concerned. Given the hype that has surrounded them in recent years, it is still surprising how little they have actually penetrated the automotive lighting market. So happily, in an age where growth is all too scarce, the LED trend is still very much an upward one.
Passenger Car Lighting
Safety and comfort are the cornerstones for every vehicle. As a result, reliability has always been a key item where lighting on a car is concerned. The long life of LED lamps was initially attractive, however, low brightness and high cost meant that they were generally restricted to use in dashboards. Nowadays, LED solutions are smaller, brighter, more efficient, last longer and cost less. They already provide smaller day-time running lights and fog lights that deliver superior performance for less energy, which in turn requires less battery power and smaller cables. Weighing less than their traditional counterparts, they contribute to more fuel efficiency and a greener vehicle. Designers have been able to unleash their creativity by using multiple small sources in place of one larger point source. (Think of creative brake light designs that look like eyes.) LEDs can be individually addressed allowing for multiple functionality. For example, some of the brake lights can change color or form a pattern depending on whether the vehicle is stationary, turning or driving normally.
The front of the car has also seen technological advances in recent years and the smaller size allows for better aerodynamics and energy efficiency. But because an LED headlamp is made up of multiple small light sources that can be individually addressed, the beam can be more precisely controlled. This means that for the first time, we have adaptive lighting which can turn the shape of the beam as you turn a corner; allowing you to see more in the turn. This adaptive ability will be a big trend in 2015.
Exciting as that is, already the use of lasers for headlamps are being touted as the next big thing. On the horizon too are Organic LEDs. OLEDs can be made in any shape, giving designers the freedom to create uniformly lit panels that clearly differentiate the particular brand. But even more exciting is that they can be flexible; allowing them to conform to the shape of the vehicle.
Lighting will continue to feature more prominently in the overall design of the exterior of the vehicle and brands/models will be recognizable by these signature looks. Who would have thought that you would recognize a car at night just by the shape of its brake lights?
LED Interior Lighting For Passenger Cars
Here, the focus is on style, personalization and ambiance. Whether purely functional, or design-oriented; LEDs in car interiors provide efficient and stylish light which can be addressed, dimmed or personalized in ways never before possible with traditional lighting.
Just as each ignition key can adjust the seat and mirrors automatically, LED lighting opens up completely new styling opportunities to illuminate interiors in different colors and levels of brightness. Lighting in the foot well or door panel can automatically turn on and aid entry into the vehicle for those with mobility issues. Luminous ceiling panels can mimic the sky and help the driver feel ‘fresher’ on rainy days or during long journeys. The interior of the car can be zoned so that it is optimally set for tasks such as driving, reading a book, or watching movies in the back. The fun element can also be addressed with LEDs; lighting can change with the choice of music or soundtrack from a movie. A green interior for St Patrick’s Day or orange for Halloween anyone?
Sensors are another trend. A simple daylight sensor could gradually dim dashboard lights while increasing headlamp brightness. Or imagine a bio-sensing steering wheel that could measure your vital statistics and flash a light alert if it thought you might be falling asleep at the wheel. One of the biggest challenges here is knowing when to stop. What should development dollars be spent on? What will consumers be willing to pay for?
Trucks must withstand enormous loads, for long periods, often driven in poor conditions. Daily professional use means that high performance solutions with a long life are required. Again, LEDs are being used in more and more areas of the vehicle, resulting in less down time and maintenance costs, lower power consumption and less weight. This amounts to huge savings in fuel consumption.
The use of ‘off road’ LED lamps improves recognition of signs, obstacles and hazards. Since these are much brighter, more efficient, more mobile and weigh less than their traditional counterparts, more are being bought and used. This is also true for emergency and other service-type vehicles. So the trend will be an increase in both value and volume in the short term.
Coupled with advancements in interactive streetlights that decrease light output when vehicles are not in the vicinity, the trend to increase efficiency and reduce energy consumption will continue.
LED Interior Lighting for Trucks
Professional truck drivers travel formidable distances night and day. LED Interior lighting for commercial vehicles could be adapted to help drivers’ natural bio-rhythms. Using light to suppress melatonin production and make drivers feel more awake, hazards and obstacles could be detected more quickly; improving safety and concentration on long journeys. However, the possible long term effects of altering natural rhythms are unknown and further study is needed. In the meantime, the technology could be used to simply wake the driver more naturally – with light – rather than an annoying alarm clock.
Given the amount of time spent in the cab, personalization of the interior is a trend which is enjoying a growth spurt thanks to all things electronic. Interior designers will be challenged to find the right balance between cost efficiency and providing a ‘template’ of built-in options that will allow the occupant to stamp their own personality on the interior.
Traditional light sources didn’t change much over decades. LED lamps continue to rapidly improve in terms of cost, efficiency, quality, life and color. Their use in the automotive sector will deliver energy and maintenance savings, allow unique vehicle designs, personalization of interiors and contribute to better road safety. Designers will be challenged to keep pace with the technology so that products are not obsolete before the cars hit the showroom.