At the brightly-lit Audi booth at the CES show in Las Vegas, we had a chance to see a demonstration of the German luxury automaker's Matrix LED headlights and laser taillights. Part of a more complicated system that includes a front-facing camera which scans for light sources, we were given a flashlight and told to aim at the camera. Upon detecting our beam, the system turned off some of the LEDs that were aimed at us, effectively sending the light around us, as if we were an immovable rock in a fast-flowing stream.
The idea is to not blind drivers of oncoming vehicles, thereby enhancing safety on the roads. It also allows the high-beam to be always on, since the system will account for upcoming vehicles. How it deals with multiple oncoming cars also remains to be seen, as multiple light sources may cause the system to turn off all light from the car, essentially leaving the road ahead not illuminated.
While not yet approved for Audi's US-bound vehicles, the systems are used in the home market of Germany. If they do get approval, they will likely appear in the brand's higher-end offerings, such as the A8 sedan, before trickling down to less costly models.
This technology, if approved for other markets than just Germany so economies of scale can be realized, has interesting design consequences as well, since stylists will have more freedom to design thinner and more complicated headlight shapes. There are also some challenges in the way, however, such as costs stemming from the added hardware and control units as well as production costs and constraints.
The Laser tail light was also demonstrated, with a laser diode that shines a line on the road surface a pre-set distance behind the car so as to try to remind the following driver to keep a safe distance. At this time, however, that distance is not speed-dependent. The bright diode is essentially a new-age fog light. In poor weather, the line becomes a triangle, as fog or spray in the beam's path is illuminated.
Audi also showed off other upcoming technologies at its booth, including OLED lights and video mirrors, like the ones found on its R18 e-tron quattro race car, also on display in the booth.