Laser Headlights vs. LED Headlights

Last updated on August 25th, 2018 at 04:34 pm

Today we take a look at and compare laser headlights vs LED headlights. LED headlights are becoming more commonplace today, especially on high-end cars. However, German automaker BMW is bringing to market laser headlights. BMW claims that laser headlights are the next logical step in automotive headlight development. Laser headlights have the potential to be simultaneously more efficient, more powerful, and also smaller in size than other types of headlamps.

Advantages of Laser Headlights vs. LED Headlights

BMW Laser HeadlightsThe advantages of laser headlights are quite compelling. First, they offer a near parallel beam of light that is up to 1,000 times more intense than LED headlights, but utilize less than half of the energy. Next, laser headlights provide 170 lumens of light output per watt, while LED headlights only output up to 100 lumens per watt. Both headlights are still significantly more efficient compared to a traditional household light bulb. For example, a 100-watt bulb only makes about 1,000 lumens of illumination. According to BMW, laser headlights can reach twice as far as LED headlights, or about 1,970 feet (600 meters).

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The laser diode that is used in laser headlights array are a mere 10 microns long. On the other hand, LED headlights have a side length 100 times bigger, at 1 millimeter. So, while the lasers themselves are tiny, BMW says that their laser headlights retain their traditional dimensions and surface area, and also continue to contribute to the aesthetic styling of a BMW. That being said, the laser headlight assemblies are shallower from front-to-back, thus allowing them greater flexibility in the placement of the headlight housing. The smaller size also means less intrusion into the vehicle’s engine compartment.

Safety of Laser Headlights

BMW says that laser headlights are safe, because the illumination of the headlamp is indirect. Their blue laser beam is also converted into a pure white light by use of a fluorescent phosphor material. BMW claims to also be able to implement a few of their optional safety features. These include auto-dimming (Anti-Dazzle High Beam Assistant), automatic pedestrian illumination (what BMW calls Dynamic Light Spot), and also steerable headlamps (aka Adaptive Headlights).

Rather than shooting the laser beam directly onto the road, BMW’s laser headlights focus their laser diodes onto fluorescent gas. This process produces a light 10 times brighter than traditional halogen headlight bulbs that are found on most cars. Working along with camera-aided software, BMW’s laser headlights produce a substantially more focused light beam in order to “reliably eliminate” any potential blinding effects to oncoming drivers.

Should you be concerned that the new BMW will now blind you and everyone else on the road? No. In fact, as of the time of this article, laser headlights are not yet legal in the U.S. According to an adviser and attorney for the NHTSA, Thomas Healy, there have already been some complaints about overly bright headlights on the road. However, most of those complaints are caused by poorly installed conversion kits which allow other drivers to place an intense HID bulb inside of the headlight assembly on an older vehicle.

Audi Laser Headlights should note that Audi is also working on their laser headlights. In fact, they displayed them in January of 2014 on a concept car at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Audi, a Volkswagen Group subsidiary, in 2008 was the first to debut an all-LED headlight. However, BMW will be the first to place laser headlights in a production vehicle.

Way back in 1962, the standard halogen headlight was introduced and it quickly became required throughout all of Europe. That was thanks to its 1,000-hour life span. However, the traditional electric filament operated very hot and tended to burn out quickly, so it’s use was banned in the U.S. until 1978. Ever since then, halogen headlights have become the norm, partly because LED headlights are too costly for most mid- to low-end vehicles.

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