Auto Tech: BMW Laser Headlights


BMW Laserlight

When the i8 concept was showcased in the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, the world was introduced to a concept which was never heard of before. After having extensive use in scientific research, weapons and even everyday objects like CD and DVD players, BMW claimed that they have harnessed Laser (acronym for ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’) technology for illuminating the road, by using it in their headlights.

But isn’t laser dangerous to look at? Havn’t we been constantly told about how we should not point laser beams straight into the eye?

Sure it is. And obviously BMW has found a rather hi-tech way around it.

BMW’s new headlight technology is powered by lasers, but the important thing to note is that when you look into them, you’re not looking at an actual laser.


BMW Laserlight laser, mirror, lens and reflector setup

Within each light, there are three blue lasers positioned at the rear of the assembly that fire onto a set of mirrors closer to the front. Those mirrors focus the laser energy into a lens filled with yellow phosphorus. The yellow phosphorus, when excited by the blue laser, emits an intense white light. That white light shines backward, onto a reflector. The reflector then bounces the more diffused white light forward, shining it out of the front of the headlight casing as a beam that is powerful, yet can be seen with a naked eye.


BMW Laserlight laser, mirrors, lens and reflector setup


BMW also claims that the laser headlight is completely ready for use on the street and highway, and causes no discomfort/ blindness to the human or animal eye.

They even conducted an experiment, where BMW engineers and  journalists were made to look straight into the laser headlamp, and the results were pretty reassuring: Eye activity recorded was completely normal. Infact, BMW claim that laser headlights are more comforting to the eyes as compared to LED or halogen equivalents.


Comparison of LED and Laser lights

And while we are on the point of LED’s, which have now taken the world over with their energy efficiency, BMW claims that their laser powered headlights are 1000 times brighter (and given the ‘coherent’ nature of laser, the beam produced will be near parallel and hence more useful)  than LED’s yet consume only half the amount of energy required by an equivalent LED setup.


Laserlight beam

BMW and many other manufacturers are betting high on Hybrid or electric technology to power their cars. Using lasers could majorly reduce the power consumption, and hence increase range of these vehicles. Has BMW just solved one of the biggest issues with such cars?

Safety is one of the prime issues that a car manufacturer faces, and BMW obviously has taken due care. ANY damage to the laser headlight will immediately cut all power going to the unit, hence making it as safe (in case of a mishap) as any other headlamp available today. 

Also, laser headlight setups take up far lesser space ( A laser diode takes up 1 micron of space, which is 1/100th the 1mm space taken by a square LED cell) as compared to conventional units. Designers are now free to make full use of aerodynamics, to not only make their cars faster, more efficient and also very safe for pedestrians and animals.

BMW says that Laserlight is compatible with all existing BMW light technologies such as Adaptive Headlights, Dynamic Lighting Spot and the Anti-Dazzle High-Beam Assist. They are also innovating new technologies that they can integrate into the headlamp without increasing any consumption of power.

Given the nature of the automobile industry, its only a short time until everyone tries to catch up with the forerunner, and we start hearing news from other automobile manufacturers with their own application of Laser technology.

Be assured, we’ll keep you posted.

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