Hello brightness my old friend

The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS introduced a new digital light in 2019.
The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS introduced a new digital light in 2019. 
Image: Supplied

Vehicle lighting systems have come far from their humble drive-by-candlelight beginnings in the late 1800s when the first cars emerged.

While Eskom struggles to keep the lights on, we take a look at some of the milestones in vehicle illumination.

The first electric lights appeared around 1910, and we now have lighting systems so advanced they are also entertaining.

It was in 1971 when the first bulb to feature halogen technology for main and dipped beam appeared in a Mercedes-Benz, the gaseous solution found inside increasing incandescence above anything before it.

The arrival of High-Intensity Discharge (HID), also known as Xenon lights, in 1995, became a mainstay of car lighting and emitted a stronger and brighter white light.

In 2004 Audi launched daytime running lights, which have become a staple of modern cars. These white light-emitting diodes were launched with Audi A8 W12, enhancing not only the appeal in design of the cars but also as a safety feature to make the cars more visible during the day.

Audi’s well-known exploits in the lights department has seen rear lights on the Q8 do a dazzling show on start up.
Audi’s well-known exploits in the lights department has seen rear lights on the Q8 do a dazzling show on start up.
Image: Supplied

By 2006 the automotive industry had begun installing even more intelligent lights with variable light distribution that automatically adapts to the weather, light and driving conditions. This is also the era when headlamps began swinging and illuminating the road according to steering directions, thus the see-around-the corner term.

Further advancements of lighting tech happened around 2010 with the arrival of adaptive headlamps now integrated with infrared technology whereby automated High-beam Assist automatically switches between high and low beam to prevent blinding other road users.

Infra-red sensors also lend vehicles the ability to spot pedestrians and animals at night from afar though their heat-seeking sensory tech. The high-end vehicles equipped with this feature are also able to display pedestrians on the display screen.

In 2013, some 100 years after the introduction of the first electric vehicle headlamps, the era of vehicles without bulbs entirely began. Out went conventional but potently bright bi-Xenons and in came LEDs in the main lighting role.

Rear lamps that dim brake lights and turn indicators in consideration of road users behind also appeared.

Using laser lighting tech, in 2019 headlamps are capable of lighting up 500-600m ahead of a car.

Laser lights, identified by blue strips, have an illuminated range of up to 600 metres – double the range of LED lights.
Laser lights, identified by blue strips, have an illuminated range of up to 600 metres – double the range of LED lights.
Image: Supplied

Audi debuted a new aspect in lighting expectations with the rear lights of the new Audi Q8 Coupe putting on a mini sequential LED light-show on start up. This is purely an aesthetic program that has a direct link to what is considered the new next-level in lighting.

The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS concept car launched at the 2019 Frankfurt motor show features digital lights that use a total of 940 individual LED bulbs in a three-dimensional space.

 Digital Lights dispense safety feature whereby road users will converse using coloured light patterns projected onto the road to say, as an example, “I have seen you”, “I will stay here”, “Attention, tailback” or “I'll give way to you” to other road users.

Warnings and messages can also be sent using animations and symbols.


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