Super-bright laser headlights with 30 percent more lumens than LEDs are coming your way -- but hopefully not blindingly.
The next new killer feature for luxury automobiles will first be seen on BMW's plug-in i8 hybrid automobile, on sale this summer throughout Europe for a suggested starting price of $135,700. The "Laser Light" headlight, says the automaker, reaches twice as far as an LED headlight, or 600 meters (1,970 feet).
Instead of shooting a laser beam onto the road, BMW’s Laser Light headlights focus laser diodes onto fluorescent gas, which produces a light 10 times brighter than the halogen bulbs found on most vehicles. BMW says its laser headlights produce a significantly more focused beam, and work along with camera-aided software systems to “reliably eliminate” any blinding effects to oncoming traffic.
Will the 1 percent of drivers who can afford a new Beamer now blind everyone else on the road? The laser headlight is not yet legal in the U.S., and according to Thomas Healy, an attorney and adviser for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have already been complaints about bright headlights on the road. Most complaints are due to poorly installed conversion kits that allow drivers to place an intense HID bulb into the headlight assembly of an older vehicle.
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Healy says a lot of these complaints to the NHTSA come from law enforcement people, as they can cause bad glare.
“On new vehicles, the optical housing on the lamp is designed so the light emitted from that lamp meets all our requirements,” Healy told International Business Times. “The HID conversion kit is throwing out a lot more light than the bulb would, because it's being placed in a lamp it's not designed for.”
If you find yourself being blinded by the headlights of an approaching vehicle, the Department of Motor Vehicles suggests you look toward the right edge of your lane, and watch the approaching vehicle out of the corner of your eye.
Audi is also working on laser headlights, having displayed a concept car at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. While the Volkswagen Group subsidiary was the first to debut an all-LED headlight in 2008, BMW will be the first to place them in a production vehicle.
The standard halogen headlight was unveiled in 1962 and quickly became mandatory throughout Europe, thanks to its 1,000-hour life span. The standard electric filament ran very hot and burned out quickly, however, so it was banned in America until 1978. Since then, it has become the norm, with LED lights too expensive for most mid- to low-end vehicles.