Sometimes the pace of development in the automotive segment has echos of Moore's Law, the trend for power in the computing world to double every two years.
No sooner have manufacturers such as Audi started ditching halogen and HID lighting for intelligent and ultra-bright LED light clusters
in some high-end cars, BMW decides it wants to develop laser lighting, offering brightness and control far beyond that of any LED system.
BMW says laser headlights will offer several benefits over the already impressive characteristics of LEDs.
Laser light is very different from natural sunlight or our current artificial sources of light. Regular lighting is made up of several different wavelengths of light in different color spectrums - visbile when you hold a prism to a light source, or when light is refracted through rain drops to make a rainbow. In contrast, laser light is monochromatic, and all the light waves are of the same wavelength. It's also called "coherent" light, in which the light waves are consistently aligned.
For those of you still with us, the benefits of this include potentially far greater light intensity and a very precise beam pattern from the laser's source. Thanks to the high efficiency of the light available, energy input can be low, which means reduced energy consumption for a vehicle. This has obvious benefits for electric cars and other energy-efficient vehicles.
Laser lighting in cars would be entirely safe too, as the light units would not emit laser light directly, instead converting it to a usable beam pattern. The color of the beam would be altered with a fluorescent phosphor material that will remain bright but be easy on the eye for both driver and oncoming traffic. BMW will also be able to combine all its current lighting technology such as Adaptive Headlights and Anti-Dazzle High-Beam Assist into the new units - plus some as-yet undeveloped systems.
Theoretically, thanks to the tiny size of a laser diode, light clusters could shrink considerably. BMW engineers admit this is possible, but sees greater potential for being able to style its cars headlights however it likes whilst not compromizing on the light output.
The first BMW to use the new laser lighting will be the 2014 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe
, as previewed last month.