Will Laser headlamps replace LED headlamps?

January 4th, 2014 by

Will Laser high-beam headlamps trump the long standing LED?

Laser headlamps have often been viewed as the exotic toy of the auto industry, but it seems like they might be ready to challenge LEDs as the industry’s showcase high-tech headlamps. If you are looking at used cars in Cincinnati, you will find mostly all LED headlamps. They have been the go to headlamp choice for decades, which is likely why the crawl of the Laser headlamp has been so slow. Audi plans to feature the Sport Quattro concept, which has laser high-beam headlamps, this week at the International CES (consumer electronics trade show) in Las Vegas. Let’s take a closer look at what these laser headlamps have to offer.

Audi is boasting that its high beams have a 547-yard range, which is roughly twice the distance of light-emitting diode (LED) high beams. Lasers, which are energy efficient, also happen to be quite expensive. It is clear with the Sport Quattro concept that Audi is highly interested in the use of lasers. We remember back at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show when Audi unveiled an A2 concept with rear fog lights powered by laser diodes too. Although Audi has not indicated its plans for the production line, the 2014 R18 e-tron Quattro race car will have them. BMW has been incorporating them in an array of devices, as they are smaller, brighter, and more energy efficient than LED headlamps. BMW says that the i8’s laser headlamps use less than half the energy of LEDs.

One major producer of LED lighting, Osram Opto Semiconductors, has invested heavily in laser technology. Marketing manager Sevugan Nagappan noted that, “There is definitely interest outside BMW for using laser diodes. People are looking into it. They want to figure out whether it makes sense or not.”

Audi doesn’t seem to be completely confined to lasers, though, as back in September they unveiled the A8 sedan, which featured an adjustable high beam generated by an array of 25 LEDs. Prices for LEDs have gone down, and LEDs offer a lot of versatility, so it is hard to say when or if BMW competitors will adopt laser technology. Our thought is that they will likely find a way to coexist, as LEDs prove to be well suited for taillights, turn signals, and brake lights. Even in the concept vehicle, while the high beams are laser-powered, the low beams feature a matrix of LED diodes.

LEDs have proven to be too effective to be written off so slowly by the young laser headlamps. Osram, who we had mentioned earlier, doesn’t feel they need to take a side as they produce both and see the pros to both. “Laser technology is not mature compared with LEDs, which have been around for decades,” Nagappan said. “I don’t think the battle between lasers and LEDs has been decided.”