Audi Swaps Matrix LED Lights for Matrix OLED Lights, but U.S. Still in the Dark

Audi OLED taillight

Emerging from an extremely brief shadow in the modern headlight technology wars, Audi has announced it will debut a concept car at this fall’s Frankfurt auto show featuring Matrix OLED headlights. After sparring with BMW over who’d be first to market with a laser headlight, Audi is moving to incorporate OLED (organic LED) lighting into its clever Matrix headlight technology, the one where a multitude of individual lights are switched on and off to effectively “shadow” oncoming cars and pedestrians from the headlights’ dazzle. (See how it works here.) The point of all this is to allow the headlights to run high beams effectively all the time without blinding other road users—even during the day. Previously, Audi’s Matrix headlights used clusters of good old-fashioned LEDs; soon, the automaker hopes to switch to thinner, more high-tech OLEDs.

Audi Matrix LEDs

Note how the Audi’s Matrix headlights keep the high beams on full burn without burning the oncoming driver’s eyes.

According to Audi, OLEDs are basically flat, as opposed to regular LEDs, which the automaker refers to as “point lighting.” Being thin and highly formable, OLEDs thus take up less space than bulkier LEDs. Furthermore, OLEDs don’t require much cooling, and nor do they need normal headlights’ flotilla of reflectors and light guides, again cutting down on the units’ physical bulk. More appealing to Audi, we’re sure, is OLED’s ability to be “subdivided into small segments that can be controlled at different brightness levels.” In Audi’s Matrix LED headlights, for example, finer control over the shadowing of other road users requires more LEDs. Think of them as pixels—if you want a precise shadow over the objects you don’t want to light with the high beams without wasting light (shadowing more than you need to), more LEDs in the headlight cluster allow that. The European-market A8, for example, uses 50 LEDs in its Matrix headlights. With OLEDs, a single unit can be subdivided into many segments, with each segment controllable so as to effectively act as an individual light source.



While Audi says that plans to introduce OLED (non-Matrix) taillight technology into a production car are underway, BMW would seem to have the company beat there. Regardless, the matrix lighting concept is fairly unique to Audi (other manufacturers offer similar capabilities using different headlight-dimming techniques), and it stands to become even so if OLEDs are incorporated soon. Even so, the U.S. likely will be excluded from these technologies; our antiquated headlight regulations don’t leave room for innovative lighting solutions like this, and lobbying by automakers to change that has so far been unsuccessful.

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