Light: Design

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August 11, 2010

Source: Audi of America

• Strong point: LED daytime running lights make Audi unmistakable

• Nature as inspiration for tomorrow’s lighting technology

• Efficient LED technology conserves fuel

Ingolstadt, – Efficient, reliable, one-of-a-kind. Audi was the
first automobile manufacturer to recognize the potential of revolutionary LED
lighting technology and then incorporate it during development of its vehicles.
The brand with the four rings has since acquired a technological edge putting it
years ahead of the competition, and is a key driver of this innovation. Crucial for
the exterior design: Not only during the day but also at night, all Audi models are
recognizable at a glance thanks to LED daytime running lights. And each Audi has
its own personality: The sweeping light strip on the Audi A1 exudes
determination. And that of the new Audi A8 radiates strength and dominance: Its
headlights were designed and constructed entirely on the basis of energy-efficient
and environmentally friendly LED technology.

A tiny dot on your finger, as minute as a grain of sand. That is all. A layperson might
just carelessly flick it away – but it electrifies those in the know. After all, this speck
of material uses electrical energy to generate more white light than any
conventional light source in the world. A light-emitting diode, or LED, is a
semiconductor device – just a square millimeter in size – which boasts a remarkable
physical property. It can convert electrical energy directly into light and is
unbeatably efficient when it comes to energy consumption. Today’s xenon and LED
headlights are four times more energy-efficient than halogen headlights. And by
2018, LED technology should be about eight times more efficient than halogen light.
In addition, LEDs excel due to their practically indefinite service life and react up to
ten times more quickly than traditional incandescent bulbs.

This success story began seven years ago in Detroit. At the North American
International Auto Show, Audi presented the Pikes Peak quattro concept study. This
elegant SUV, inspiration for today’s Audi Q7, garnered attention with the world’s
first fog lights equipped with high-performance light-emitting diodes. Integrated
into the broad bumper as striking strips of light, the fog lights were a sensation not
merely in a technical sense. The strip-shaped lights were also aesthetically pleasing
and very popular with the public.

Soon thereafter, the 12-cylinder Audi A8 went into series production as the world’s
first vehicle with LED daytime running lights. High-performance light-emitting
diodes as a light source for headlights? Nothing of the sort had ever been done.
“Audi blazed trails with LED technology. And even though we’re years ahead of our
direct competitors, this field continues to bear tremendous potential for us. Our
research counts on the ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ typical at Audi and no one can
imagine our designs without it,” says Dr. Wolfgang Huhn, Head of the Light and
Visibility Department at Audi.

Unprecedented scope in vehicle design

The tiny light sources present designers with spectacular opportunities. Stefan
Sielaff, Audi’s Head of Design, explains: “LEDs unlock the door to unrealized design
possibilities for exterior design and interiors alike.” For example, a number of lightemitting
diodes can be combined to create various shapes, which can ultimately
result in a distinctive visual appearance. The Audi A8 and A1 are examples of a new
generation of LED daytime running lights. An elegant light strip adorns the front
and rear of both models.

Intelligent lighting design allows functions to be combined. In the A8, the turn
signal is integrated into the light strip, with yellow and white LEDs arranged one
above the other. This leaves more space for additional lighting functions, such as the
low beams.

Headlights naturally play a pivotal role in a vehicle’s light design. An appealing front
end with one-of-a-kind lights makes a car as well as its personality and the brand
recognizable at a glance. Sielaff adds: “LED daytime running lights epitomize this
fact. Every light design is different, yet there’s no mistaking that every single vehicle
is an Audi. Our daytime running lights cemented the visible persona of Audi models
on the road and hone our progressive, sporty design.”
For quite some time, drivers have been able to spot an approaching Audi from far
away. But different configurations of LED daytime running lights now permit distinct
differences among the Audi models – even in the dark. A strip of light can be
designed to underscore a vehicle’s character, just as eyeliner emphasizes an eye.
This fundamentally alters the body language of Audi models“The lighting
configuration of yesteryear – the radiator grille along with the round lights – called
to mind the face of a friendly bear,” notes André Georgi, Senior Designer of Lighting

Systems. Today: “The LED daytime running lights of the A8 suggest experience,
composure and courage. The lights of the A1, on the other hand, resemble the wings
of an eagle as they spread out in preparation for flight: elegant, sturdy and proud.
And the LED daytime running lights on the R8 depict the horns of a bull, powerfully
and proudly charging forwards.”

The Audi A8 is the spearhead of the Audi lighting strategy, and is available with
optional full-LED headlights. In addition to the daytime running lights, lightemitting
diodes are also used for the turn signals, the low beams and the high
beams. The first full-LED headlight represents the triumph of an idea for Audi. As
Wolfgang Huhn says: “Many initially considered this development to be a marketing
gag. But anyone who has experienced the light in action is amazed at the high
performance and excited about the homogenous distribution of light and the
pleasant, daylight-like color of the light.” With the A7, an additional model can now
be ordered with full-LED headlights. “This is the next step on the road to
deployment in high-volume vehicles,” adds Huhn

Audi’s light strategy also benefits from something quite different, namely a
psychological phenomenon: “Bright light created by small, compact light sources is
unpleasant for the human eye. The combination of headlights and LED daytime
running lights enlarges the light source, thus eliminating a nuisance,” explains

Ideas and visions from technology and design

The true key to success in Ingolstadt, however, is the daring to break new ground
coupled with close teamwork. “The remarkable cooperation between design and
technology at Audi is surely unique in the automotive industry,” adds Georgi. The
design process is initiated by developing and defining a vehicle’s character. The light
designers and engineers from Technical Development play a hands-on role in this
process from the word go. For example, one of the engineers – fittingly nicknamed
“The Bridge” by his colleagues – works right in the middle of the Design Department.
Conversely, a lot of the technically relevant headlight components are designed by
Technical Development. This close rapport ensures that the departments confer
with one another every day.

As a vehicle’s exterior takes shape, the proportions of the headlights and the
taillights are defined. Georgi says: “It’s a truly intensive process for us to develop
new headlights; every idea and every vision from Technical Development and Design
come together.”

Audi’s light designers turn to industrial design and architecture when they require
inspiration for new ideas. In fact, more and more architects are integrating high
tech LEDs into their plans for new buildings, thus joining a worldwide shift toward
energy-efficient lighting. Experts forecast that LEDs, energy-efficient and
maintenance-free sources of light, will also become the first choice for indoor

But now back to vehicle lights. Another crucial muse for Audi light designers is
nature. “Nature often shows us the way, allowing us to learn just how simply and
effectively processes can be executed,” explains the light designer Georgi. One
example of this is the development of the tail lights for the Audi A1 Sportback
concept, which celebrated its premiere in Paris in 2008. The Audi designers took
cues from the grid structure of a dragonfly’s wing. The design is an impressive
demonstration of how a large, sturdy and lightweight surface can be structured
relatively simply. “We used our bionic design to apply this design principle to the tail
light of the Audi A1 concept, because it is integrated into the rear hatch and thus
called for lightness,” says André Georgi. Another example of how nature pervades
Audi design are the headlights of the Audi Shooting Brake Concept, which was
presented at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2005. Resembling an open pine cone,
reflector shells arranged concentrically one behind the other each concentrate the
light from one diode, producing a high-luminosity, even form of beam. The blossomlike
headlights are located in the center.

In addition to inspiration from nature, the technology also influences the work of
the designers. One example is the Audi e-tron, which was presented at the Frankfurt
Motor Show in 2009. All headlight functions were consolidated into a single
function: the MatrixBeam. As Georgi explains: “That opens up entirely new design
possibilities. We no longer need to reserve space for low beams, high beams and
other headlight functions. The headlights flow into the body. At the same time, they
also offer a haptic experience. You can reach into the headlights and touch the LEDs,
which are the actual source of light.”

Greater safety, lower consumption

Yet LEDs are capable of even more. They can also reduce a vehicle’s fuel
consumption. When daytime running lights become mandatory in the European
Union in May 2011, Audi models with on-board LED technology will be ahead of the
competition. Drivers in a lot of European countries – such as Italy, Denmark, Finland,
Estonia, and Sweden – already must use their lights during the day. As a result, just
one vehicle’s conventional low-beam headlights, taillights, and license-plate
illumination consume some 200 watts – which the alternator must constantly
generate. By comparison, a mere 15 watts is required to power the new Audi A4’s
modern LED daytime running lights, which have the added advantage of far better
visibility for other road users. All in all, that equates to a decrease of about 0.2 liters
of fuel per 100 kilometers and about 4 grams fewer CO2 emissions per kilometer.
A statistical example clearly illustrates the significance of these figures: Thanks to
this new technology, the Audi models with LED daytime running lights sold in 2008
alone will consume – during just their first year in use – about 10 million fewer liters
of fuel and emit approximately 25,000 fewer metric tons of CO2.
Such arguments are persuading more and more car buyers. In addition to the
striking design, the high-tech lights’ stellar energy efficiency is yet another reason
to opt for them. Consequently, a majority of people who buy an Audi A3 or A4 now
order daytime running lights with LED technology. This success provides a sense of
validation for the engineers, design engineers, and light designers in Ingolstadt –
but also calls to mind an arduous journey. “We first had to experiment a great deal
before we could employ the medium of LED to achieve the lighting performance of
headlights,” explains Stephan Berlitz, Stephan Berlitz, Head of Innovations and
Lighting Electronics in Ingolstadt.

The discovery of digital light

Berlitz reminisces aloud: “One day, a supplier called to tell me that white LEDs with
18 lumens per watt would soon be on the market. Suffice to say, that immediately
got my attention.” Lumens per watt are the horsepower of light: They light up the
eyes of light developers just as the words torque and power light up the eyes of
engine experts. For the sake of comparison, an ordinary household light bulb
generates about 20 to 25 lumens per watt. A modern passenger vehicle’s xenon
headlights, on the other hand, are very energy-efficient and create some 80 lumens
per watt.

Though the 18 lumens generated by the first LED headlights in the Pikes Peak
concept are old news, they created quite a stir in those days. The next generation of
white high-performance LEDs will hit the market next year with a whopping 100
lumens per watt, thus surpassing the efficiency of xenon lights for the first time.
This can be traced back to dramatic developments. “Light-emitting diodes are
similar to computer chips. Every two years there’s an increase in output of about 30
percent,” explains Berlitz, “and we’ll soon be able to create so much light with LEDs
that entirely new applications will become possible.”

Digital light, as Berlitz calls this new light technology, can be made more or less
bright electronically and precisely adapted to a driver’s needs. Audi developers are
convinced that future generations of headlights will react to weather conditions, a
vehicle’s speed, the distance between vehicles, and potentially dangerous objects.

Intelligent light for every driving situation

Developers exploit the tininess of LEDs to realize new ideas and increase light
output: They tightly bundle several light-emitting diodes to create modules known
as LED arrays. These arrays are extremely flat, very compact and require much less
space than conventional light sources such as halogen bulbs or xenon burners With
the help of reflectors or lenses and sophisticated control electronics, complex
lighting functions can thus be implemented in very tight spaces. Cornering lights,
for instance, which previously were controlled via a complex mechanical system in
the headlight.

But Audi developers envision even better things for future generations of headlights.
Their motto: The right light for every driving situation. Huhn explains: “We’re
striving to create intelligent headlights and taillights which think and anticipate in
the interest of enhancing a driver’s safety and comfort.” For example, there are
already high-beam headlights in pre-series development which will allow drivers to
navigate roads at night without temporarily blinding oncoming drivers. This is made
possible by a variable distribution of light: An electronic system continuously
calculates the distance to any approaching vehicles to ensure that the road ahead is
ideally illuminated at all times – without irritating oncoming drivers.
The e-tron study, presented at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, is equipped with a
fully automatic lighting assistance system that already masters the relevant lighting
functions. The new technology recognizes weather conditions and adapts the
illumination to rain or fog. If there is oncoming traffic, for example, the high beams
are turned off in the corresponding section of the illumination field. The cornering
light system analyzes data from the navigation system and illuminates corners
before the driver steers into them.

In addition to such successes in the field of LED technology, Audi is also pursuing
the further enhancement of existing technologies. The brand with the four rings is,
for example, the only European manufacturer which has resolutely switched to
xenon lights that contain no mercury. “Our engineers do everything they can to
champion environmentally friendly ideas. For instance, we are the only European
manufacturer which uses mercury-free xenon lights. Until recently, this had been
deemed all but technically impossible. But following our triumph, the EU recently
banned xenon which contains mercury as of January 2012,” says Huhn. LEDs
typically contain no mercury and thus tend to lend themselves to environmentally
friendly disposal.

Trend toward individualized light

LEDs also present new opportunities for interior lighting. Similar to interior
architecture, lighting scenarios are imaginable which would make it safer to operate
the vehicle at night, render the interior considerably roomier, or impart a certain

The optional interior lighting package with ambient lighting in the Audi A8 quite
simply raises the bar. The true ingenuity of the ambient lighting of the A8 lies in the
possibilities for customizing the interior lights. The driver can dim the light and
configure various lighting profiles via the MMI. These profiles respond as
appropriate to certain driving situations – when a vehicle’s interior is illuminated by
lighting within cities, for example, or becomes dark on unlit rural routes.
When it comes to the lighting in vehicle interiors, developers are confronted with
few limits. Safety and comfort are top priorities. Berlitz explains: “Think of a
mountain hut at night. As you’re passing through an alpine meadow, you spot the
warm light glowing through the hut’s windows. The light triggers that same cozy
sensation you feel when you arrive home.” We want future Audi models to elicit that
same exact feeling. Berlitz adds: “Just imagine: You press a single button on your
remote control and the entire vehicle springs to life. The ‘headlight eyes’ awaken
and an inviting light fills the vehicle’s interior as if to say: Welcome home!”

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