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Several European car makers have made major advances around their headlights using LED, but will consumers in the US ever get a chance to benefit from this awesome new technology? One can only wait and see for now. Audi has asked for a clarification of the federal regulation that controls headlights, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108. This rule seems to say that dynamic headlight activity is not allowed which makes Audi, Opel and Mercedes new headlight systems illegal in the good old USA.
These new dynamic LED headlight systems are just that: dynamic. They are made up of sizable arrays of LED diodes that can be controlled by the car’s computer systems in a much more precise way than has been possible in the past. This makes driving conditions safer for both you and the drivers in oncoming traffic, who no longer have to worry about being blinded by the high beams you forgot to turn off. Did I mention that these systems are so confident in their abilities that some have removed the high beam switch entirely?
Mercedes was the first to announce their dynamic LED headlights. They received an honorable mention at the Red Dot Design of the Year awards 2011 for their project. The Mercedes-Benz CLS all-LED headlamps were commended for their attractive looks but also for their innovative features. This high-performance lamp was the first of its kind to be equipped with adaptive lighting functions. The intelligent system detects driving situation and weather conditions and automatically selects the best combination of seven lighting configurations, which use 71 LED diodes to create the safest and best lighting for the current trip.
Audi features what they call Matrix Beam Lighting. Their lights have only around 64 diodes but boast of features that sound straight out of science fiction. These lights by Audi claim to be able to detect nearby cars and pedestrians and automatically dim themselves. Combined with the headlamp-leveling feature, which can adjust the angle of the lights based on braking, acceleration or road conditions, these lights really shine. But Audi didn’t stop there. Their dynamic LED headlights can also automatically create light patterns uniquely suited for city, country and highway driving situations, as well as adverse weather conditions, while fog and heavy rain settings can automatically adjust light spectrum to maximize visibility.
The Opel light matrix LED headlights make use of a front view camera and offer extensive control of light to suit just about any driving situation. First, the normal operating mode for these lights is what would usually be considered high beams. The lights are then dimmed and reconfigured based on the specific driving situation. The matrix is divided into four sections that can be switched on or off as needed to change brightness and even the shape of the light beam produced. There are a possible sixteen different combinations of these sections and 256 brightness levels possible with this system, all of which can change so as to be nearly imperceptible to the driver’s eye.
While Opel’s light matrix will not be available on cars anywhere for several years, both Mercedes and Audi have cars in production with these new high tech headlamp assemblies all over Europe and the world. So why can’t we enjoy them here in America? It seems that many years ago a law was written that stated that headlights should not control themselves. Some believe that this law was created to save innocent drivers’ eyes from misbehaving high beam switches; others are baffled and don’t know why this law was laid down, but they do know that the law wasn’t talking about systems like these: they didn’t exist then.
Audi has stepped up and asked the government to interpret what the law really means. They are evaluating it and will have an answer for us soon. Maybe some day in the near future we will be able to safely drive down the street and clearly see the deer waiting to jump out and wreck our cars. Maybe some day we will no longer be bothered by the annoying and painful headlights of oncoming traffic. Or maybe they will decide otherwise? Until that day comes all we can do is wait and watch for that light in the dark to shine and light the way to safer roadways.